Despite recourse to this Court, however, we cannot rule on the issue of citizenship of Gonzalez. Subsequent events showed that Gonzalez had not only been duly proclaimed, he had also taken his oath of office and assumed office as Member of the House of Representatives. We have consistently held that once a winning candidate has been proclaimed, taken his oath, and assumed office as a member of the House of Representatives, COMELEC’s jurisdiction over election contests relating to his election, returns, and qualifications ends, and the HRET’s own jurisdiction begins. In Perez v. Commission on Elections, we declared that the Court does not have jurisdiction to pass upon the eligibility of the private respondent who was already a Member of the House of Representatives at the time of filing of the petition for certiorari.
Under Article VI, Section 17 of the 1987 Constitution, the HRET is the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives. As this Court explained in Lazatin v. House Electoral Tribunal:
The use of the word “sole” emphasizes the exclusive character of the jurisdiction conferred x x x. The exercise of the power by the Electoral Commission under the 1935 Constitution has been described as “intended to be as complete and unimpaired as if it had remained originally in the legislature” x x x. Earlier, this grant of power to the legislature was characterized by Justice Malcolm “as full, clear and complete” x x x. Under the amended 1935 Constitution, the power was unqualifiedly reposed upon the Electoral Tribunal x x x and it remained as full, clear and complete as that previously granted the legislature and the Electoral Commission x x x. The same may be said with regard to the jurisdiction of the Electoral Tribunals under the 1987 Constitution.
Limkaichong v. Commission on Elections recently reiterated this settled rule on the COMELEC’s loss of jurisdiction over a petition questioning the qualifications of a candidate upon his election, proclamation and assumption of office. In said case, petitioner Limkaichong faced two disqualification cases alleging that she is not a natural-born Filipino because her parents were Chinese citizens at the time of her birth. The cases remained pending by the time the May 14, 2007 elections were held in which Limkaichong emerged as the winner with 65,708 votesor by a margin of 7,746 votes. Subsequently, another congressional candidate (Olivia Paras) who obtained the second highest number of votes filed a motion for leave to intervene and to suspend the proclamation of Limkaichong, which the COMELEC’s Second Division granted. The day after the PBOC suspended her proclamation, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 8062 adopting the policy-guidelines of not suspending the proclamation of winning candidates with pending disqualification cases which shall be without prejudice to the continuation of the hearing and resolution of the cases. Accordingly, Limkaichong moved to reconsider the resolution disqualifying her as a candidate and to lift the order suspending her proclamation. In compliance with Resolution No. 8062, the PBOC reconvened and proclaimed Limkaichong as the duly elected Member of the House of Representatives for the 1st district of Negros Oriental. Thereafter, Paras filed a petition to annul Limkaichong’s proclamation, which was dismissed by the COMELEC’s First Division, upon the ground that the disqualification cases were not yet final when Limkaichong was proclaimed. Her proclamation being valid or legal, the COMELEC ruled that it effectively divested the Commission of jurisdiction over the cases.
Limkaichong then moved to declare the disqualification cases as dismissed, contending that with her proclamation, her having taken her oath of office and her assumption of the position, the COMELEC was divested of jurisdiction to hear the disqualification cases. Since the COMELEC did not resolve her motion despite her repeated pleas, Limkaichong filed a petition for certiorari before this Court. Said petition was consolidated with the petition for prohibition and injunction filed by Louis C. Biraogo, petition for certiorari and injunction filed by Renald F. Villando and the petition for quo warranto, prohibition and mandamus with prayer for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction instituted by Paras.
By Decision dated April 1, 2009, this Court upheld the validity of Limkaichong’s proclamation and the HRET’s jurisdiction over the issue of disqualification of Limkaichong, as follows:
The Court has held in the case of Planas v. COMELEC, that at the time of the proclamation of Defensor, the respondent therein who garnered the highest number of votes, the Division Resolution invalidating his certificate of candidacy was not yet final. As such, his proclamation was valid or legal, as he had at that point in time remained qualified. Limkaichong’s situation is no different from that of Defensor, the former having been disqualified by a Division Resolution on the basis of her not being a natural-born Filipino citizen. When she was proclaimed by the PBOC, she was the winner during the elections for obtaining the highest number of votes, and at that time, the Division Resolution disqualifying her has not yet became final as a result of the motion for reconsideration.
x x x x
In her petition x x x, Limkaichong argued that her proclamation on May 25, 2007 by the PBOC divested the COMELEC of its jurisdiction over all issues relating to her qualifications, and that jurisdiction now lies with the HRET.
Biraogo, on the other hand, believed otherwise. He argued x x x that the issue concerning Limkaichong’s disqualification is still within the exclusive jurisdiction of the COMELEC En Banc to resolve because when Limkaichong was proclaimed on May 25, 2007, the matter was still pending resolution before the COMELEC En Banc.
We do not agree. The Court has invariably held that once a winning candidate has been proclaimed, taken his oath, and assumed office as a Member of the House of Representatives, the COMELEC’s jurisdiction over election contests relating to his election, returns, and qualifications ends, and the HRET’s own jurisdiction begins. It follows then that the proclamation of a winning candidate divests the COMELEC of its jurisdiction over matters pending before it at the time of the proclamation. The party questioning his qualification should now present his case in a proper proceeding before the HRET, the constitutionally mandated tribunal to hear and decide a case involving a Member of the House of Representatives with respect to the latter’s election, returns and qualifications. The use of the word “sole” in Section 17, Article VI of the Constitution and in Section 250 of the OEC underscores the exclusivity of the Electoral Tribunals’ jurisdiction over election contests relating to its members.
x x x x (Additional emphasis supplied.)
Maintaining that it retains jurisdiction over SPA No. 10-074 (DC), the COMELEC En Banc declared in its July 23, 2010 Resolution that the ruling in Limkaichong v. Commission on Elections does not apply to the case of Gonzalez since this Court found Limkaichong’s proclamation to be valid pursuant to COMELEC Resolution No. 8062 which adopted the policy guideline, in connection with the May 14, 2007 elections, of not suspending the proclamation of winning candidates with pending disqualification cases which shall be without prejudice to the continuation of the hearing and decision of the involved cases.
As we held in Limkaichong, any allegations as to the invalidity of the proclamation will not prevent the HRET from assuming jurisdiction over all matters essential to a member’s qualification to sit in the House of Representatives.