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CA junks Abalos plea to stop RTCs from hearing electoral-sabotage cases

THE Court of Appeals (CA) has junked the petition filed by former Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) seeking the dismissal of the electoral- sabotage cases filed against him in connection with the alleged irregularities during the 2004 and 2007 elections.

In an eight-page decision written by Associate Justice Zenaida Galapate-Laguilles, the CA’s Tenth Division affirmed the orders issued by Judges Eugenio de la Cruz and Jesus Mupas of the Regional Trial Court (RTC) in Pasay City on March 7, 2012, and March 9, 2012, respectively.

De la Cruz and Mupas are the presiding judges of Branches 117 and 112, respectively.

In his March 7, 2012, order, de la Cruz dismissed Abalos’s petition to quash the 11 information of electoral sabotage filed against him by a joint committee composed of members of the Department of Justice and the Comelec.

On the other hand, in his March 9 order, Mupas denied Abalos motion to quash the two informations of electoral sabotage filed against him by the committee.

Abalos is accused of manipulating the senatorial-election results in North Cotabato, purportedly ordering an improbable “12-0” sweep in the province. In all the said cases, Abalos sought the dismissal on the ground of lack of jurisdiction.

He argued that, since the information’s state that he allegedly committed the offenses charged in relation to his office as previous chairman of the Comelec, the jurisdiction over the said cases belong to the jurisdiction of the Sandiganbayan, pursuant to Section 4 of Republic Act (RA) 8249, the law defining the antigraft court’s jurisdiction.

Both judges denied Abalos’s contention, saying that the Sandiganbayan Act did not repeal the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTCs over election offenses as mandated under Section 268 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC).

In affirming the trial court’s decisions, the CA pointed out that under Section 268 of the OEC, RTCs have exclusive jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of the code,
except those relating to the offense of failure to register or to vote.

On the other hand, Section 4 (b) of the Sandiganbayan Act, as amended by RA 8249, which took effect on February 23, 1997, provides that the Sandiganbayan has jurisdiction over “other offenses or felonies whether simple or complexed with other crimes committed by the public officials and employees in relation to their offise.

“A contradistinction between the general provision of Section 4 (b) of the Sandiganbayan Act, as amended, and the specific conferment of jurisdiction to the RTCs over election offenses clearly shows that the crime of electoral sabotage falls within the ambit of the RTC’s exclusive jurisdiction,” the CA ruled.

It is clear, according to the CA, that under Section 268 of the OEC the RTCs are mandated to try and decide criminal cases involving violations of the OEC, except those relating to the offense of failure to register or failure to vote, which are under the jurisdiction of the metropolitan or municipal trial courts.

In addition, the CA did not give merit to Abalos’s  argument that the OEC was repealed by the Sandiganbayan Act.

The CA said the Supreme Court has ruled in the case of People v Benipayo involving a criminal libel case filed against then-Comelec Chairman Alfredo Benipayo that the broad and general provisions of Section 4 of the Sandiganbayan Act “cannot be construed to have impliedly repealed or even simply modified” the original jurisdiction of the RTCs under OEC. Concurring with the ruling were Associate Justices Mariflor Punzalan Castillo and Florito Macalino.

 

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