Dissension in the Court: May 2010

The following are selected decisions promulgated by the High Court in May 2010 where at least one Justice felt compelled to express his or her dissent from the decision penned by the ponente.  In two out of the three decisions featured here, we see our new Chief Justice Renato C. Corona parting ways with the majority on certain aspects of the main decision.

1.              Primary Jurisdiction of the Comelec En Banc (Brion vs. Corona)

Liberal Party vs. Commission on Elections is a case that involves the registration of political coalitions, the grant of accreditation to the dominant parties and validity of the Comelec en banc’s authority to act on the registration of political party coalitions.

Briefly, the Nationalista Party (NP) and the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) filed a single petition with the Comelec for the registration of their coalition (the ”NP-NPC Coalition”) and the accreditation of the NP-NPC Coalition as the dominant minority party for purposes of the May 10, 2010 elections. The Liberal Party, who was also seeking accreditation as dominant minority party, objected to this petition.

Instead of passing the petition first through a Comelec division, the Comelec en banc directly assumed jurisdiction of the NP-NPC Coalition’s petition and eventually decided to grant NP-NPC Coalition’s petition for registration as a political party coalition.

In justifying its direct assumption of jurisdiction (as opposed to having the petition first be heard by division), the Comelec cited a February 2003 Supreme Court ruling in Baytan vs. COMELEC in which it was held that the registration of coalitions involves the exercise of the Comelec’s administrative powers and not its quasi-judicial powers; hence, the Comelec en banc can directly act on it. Baytan further held that there is no constitutional requirement that a petition for registration of a coalition should be decided first by a division. In Baytan, the Supreme Court held that the Constitution merely vests the Comelec’s administrative powers in the “Commission on Elections,” while providing that the Comelec “may sit en banc or in two divisions.” Thus, asserted the Comelec, the Comelec en banc can act directly on matters falling within its administrative powers.

Speaking for the majority, on the matter of the Comelec en banc’s direct assumption of jurisdiction, Justice Arturo D. Brion appears to have upheld the view espoused by one of the dissenting Comelec Commissioners — Commissioner Rene Sarmiento — that the Comelec sitting en banc had no jurisdiction over the NP-NPC Coalition’s petition for registration as a political party coalition and accreditation as dominant minority party.

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