Under the 1987 Constitution, Members of the House of Representatives must be natural-born citizens not only at the time of their election but during their entire tenure. Anyone who assails a Representative’s citizenship or lack of it may still question the same at any time, even beyond the ten-day prescriptive period set in the 1998 HRET Rules.
We also hold that there is no basis for the COMELEC’s order constituting a Special Provincial Board of Canvassers for the purpose of proclaiming Lim who got the next highest number of votes in the May 10, 2010elections for the position of Representative of the 3rd District of Albay. It is well-settled that the ineligibility of a candidate receiving majority votes does not entitle the eligible candidate receiving the next highest number of votes to be declared elected. A minority or defeated candidate cannot be deemed elected to the office. The votes intended for the disqualified candidate should not be considered null and void, as it would amount to disenfranchising the electorate in whom sovereignty resides. The second placer is just that, a second placer – he lost in the elections and was repudiated by either the majority or plurality of voters.
Private respondent Lim argues that the second placer rule will not apply in this case because Gonzalez was disqualified to be a candidate before election under the assailed COMELEC resolutions which became final and executory after five (5) days without a restraining order issued by this Court. The effect of the ruling on Gonzalez’s disqualification retroacts to the day of election (May 10, 2010). As reflected in the recent Statement of Votes prepared by the Special Board of Canvassers, the name of Fernando V. Gonzalez has been delisted from the lists of official candidates for the Members of the House of Representatives in the 3rd District of Albay.
The exception to the second placer rule is predicated on the concurrence of the following: (1) the one who obtained the highest number of votes is disqualified; and (2) the electorate is fully aware in fact and in law of a candidate’s disqualification so as to bring such awareness within the realm of notoriety but would nonetheless cast their votes in favor of the ineligible candidate. These facts warranting the exception to the rule are not present in the case at bar. As noted by Commissioner Velasco, the date of promulgation of the resolution declaring Gonzalez disqualified to be a candidate in the May 10, 2010 was not a previously fixed date as required by Section 6 of COMELEC Resolution No. 8696 as the records do not show that the parties were given prior notice thereof. In fact, Gonzalez through his counsel received a copy of theMay 8, 2010 Resolution only onMay 11, 2010, one day after the elections.
And as we held in Bautista v. Commission on Elections
Thus, when the electorate voted for Bautista as Punong Barangay on 15 July 2002, it was under the belief that he was qualified. There is no presumption that the electorate agreed to the invalidation of their votes as stray votes in case of Bautista’s disqualification. The Court cannot adhere to the theory of respondent Alcoreza that the votes cast in favor of Bautista are stray votes. A subsequent finding by the COMELEC en banc that Bautista is ineligible cannot retroact to the date of elections so as to invalidate the votes cast for him. As held in Domino v. COMELEC:
Contrary to the claim of INTERVENOR, petitioner was not notoriously known by the public as an ineligible candidate. Although the resolution declaring him ineligible as candidate was rendered before the election, however, the same is not yet final and executory. In fact, it was no less than the COMELEC in its Supplemental Omnibus Resolution No. 3046 that allowed DOMINO to be voted for the office and ordered that the votes cast for him be counted as the Resolution declaring him ineligible has not yet attained finality. Thus the votes cast for DOMINO are presumed to have been cast in the sincere belief that he was a qualified candidate, without any intention to misapply their franchise. Thus, said votes can not be treated as stray, void, or meaningless. (Emphasis supplied.)
We have declared that not even this Court has authority under any law to impose upon and compel the people to accept a loser, as their representative or political leader. The wreath of victory cannot be transferred from the disqualified winner to the repudiated loser. The COMELEC clearly acted with grave abuse of discretion in ordering the proclamation of private respondent Lim who lost by a wide margin of 29,292 votes, after declaring Gonzalez, the winning candidate, disqualified to run as Member of the House of Representatives.