The Supreme Court (SC) ruled that Congressman Harlin Abayon is the legitimate representative of Northern Samar and the real winner in the May 2013 elections.
The unanimous ruling, which is “immediately executory”, granted Abayon’s petition to reverse the ruling of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) that subsequently ousts former Deputy Raul Daza from office.
In a decision, penned by Associate Justice Jose Catral Mendoza, the SC ruled that the HRET and Daza committed grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction.
“Wherefore, the February 3, 2016 Decision and the March 7, 2016 Resolution of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal are Reversed and Set Aside. Petitioner Harlin Abayon is declared to be the lawfully elected Representative of the first legislative district of Northern Samar during the May 13, 2013 elections,” the SC decision reads.
The High Court opined that it “upheld the jurisdiction of the HRET to annul elections conducted in a particular area or in specific precincts upon proof of terrorism, fraud or other irregularities were present. However, the Court disagreed with respondent HRET in the latter’s finding that the terrorism alleged to have been present was of such magnitude and gravity as to warrant the annulment of the elections.”
SC Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Diosdado M. Peralta and Lucas Bersamin inhibited from the case, being members of HRET. On the other hand, SC Justice Antonio Carpio abstained from the case since he is the fraternity brother of Daza in Sigma Rho Fraternity.
In a petition for certiorari (a writ seeking judicial review) and prohibition, dated March 9, 2016, Abayon argued that there was grave abuse of discretion on the part of the HRET majority members who voted against him.
Abayon maintained that the HRET committed an error in granting Daza’s protest because its findings and conclusions were not supported by evidence. Further, the HRET has no jurisdiction to annul the result of the election for the member of the House of Representatives in the clustered precincts in Victoria, Northern Samar because it falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Comelec en banc.
These views are supported by the HRET minority headed by Peralta, who began the discussion in his dissenting opinion by stating that: “Basic is the rule in evidence that he who alleges a fact has the burden of proving it; mere allegations cannot be considered as evidence. In election cases, the burden of proof to establish the grounds raised in the election protest lies on the protestant.”
After the completion of the revision/recount of the ballots which commenced sometime in October 2014, Abayon emerged as winner, garnering a lead of 124 votes over Daza.