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Case Digest:Frivaldo v. COMELEC G.R. No. 120295 June 28, 1996

Frivaldo v. COMELEC G.R. No. 120295 June 28, 1996

TOPIC: Elements of the State: Citizens: Citizenship: Loss of Citizenship, Reacquisition and Retention


On March 20, 1995, private respondent Juan G. Frivaldo filed his Certificate of Candidacy for the office of Governor of Sorsogon in the May 8, 1995 elections. On March 23, 1995, petitioner Raul R. Lee, another candidate, filed a petition4 with the Comelec docketed as SPA No. 95-028 praying that Frivaldo “be disqualified from seeking or holding any public office or position by reason of not yet being a citizen of the Philippines”, and that his Certificate of Candidacy be canceled. On May 1, 1995, the Second Division of the Comelec promulgated a Resolution5 granting the petition with the following disposition6:

WHEREFORE, this Division resolves to GRANT the petition and declares that respondent is DISQUALIFIED to run for the Office of Governor of Sorsogon on the ground that he is NOT a citizen of the Philippines. Accordingly, respondent’s certificate of candidacy is canceled.

The Motion for Reconsideration filed by Frivaldo remained unacted upon until after the May 8, 1995 elections. So, his candidacy continued and he was voted for during the elections held on said date. On May 11, 1995, the Comelec en banc7 affirmed the aforementioned Resolution of the Second Division.

The Provincial Board of Canvassers completed the canvass of the election returns and a Certificate of Votes8 dated May 27, 1995 was issued showing the following votes obtained by the candidates for the position of Governor of Sorsogon:

Antonio H. Escudero, Jr. 51,060

Juan G. Frivaldo 73,440

Raul R. Lee 53,304

Isagani P. Ocampo 1,925

On June 9, 1995, Lee filed in said SPA No. 95-028, a (supplemental) petition9 praying for his proclamation as the duly-elected Governor of Sorsogon.

In an order10 dated June 21, 1995, but promulgated according to the petition “only on June 29, 1995,” the Comelec en banc directed “the Provincial Board of Canvassers of Sorsogon to reconvene for the purpose of proclaiming candidate Raul Lee as the winning gubernatorial candidate in the province of Sorsogon on June 29, 1995 . . .” Accordingly, at 8:30 in the evening of June 30, 1995, Lee was proclaimed governor of Sorsogon.

The Issues in G.R. No. 123755

Petitioner Lee’s “position on the matter at hand may briefly be capsulized in the following propositions”15:

First — The initiatory petition below was so far insufficient in form and substance to warrant the exercise by the COMELEC of its jurisdiction with the result that, in effect, the COMELEC acted without jurisdiction in taking cognizance of and deciding said petition;

Second — The judicially declared disqualification of respondent was a continuing condition and rendered him ineligible to run for, to be elected to and to hold the Office of Governor;


Third — The alleged repatriation of respondent was neither valid nor is the effect thereof retroactive as to cure his ineligibility and qualify him to hold the Office of Governor; and

Fourth — Correctly read and applied, the Labo Doctrine fully supports the validity of petitioner’s proclamation as duly elected Governor of Sorsogon.

The facts of this case are essentially the same as those in G.R. No. 123755. However, Frivaldo assails the above-mentioned resolutions on a different ground: that under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code, which is reproduced hereinunder:

Sec. 78. Petition to deny due course or to cancel a certificate of candidacy. — A verified petition seeking to deny due course or to cancel a certificate of candidacy may be filed by any person exclusively on the ground that any material representation contained therein as required under Section 74 hereof is false. The petition may be filed at any time not later than twenty-five days from the time of the filing of the certificate of candidacy and shall be decided, after notice and hearing, not later than fifteen days before the election. (Emphasis supplied.)

the Comelec had no jurisdiction to issue said Resolutions because they were not rendered “within the period allowed by law” i.e., “not later than fifteen days before the election.”

Otherwise stated, Frivaldo contends that the failure of the Comelec to act on the petition for disqualification within the period of fifteen days prior to the election as provided by law is a jurisdictional defect which renders the said Resolutions null and void.

By Resolution on March 12, 1996, the Court consolidated G.R. Nos. 120295 and 123755 since they are intimately related in their factual environment and are identical in the ultimate question raised, viz., who should occupy the position of governor of the province of Sorsogon.

On March 19, 1995, the Court heard oral argument from the parties and required them thereafter to file simultaneously their respective memoranda.


  1. Was the repatriation of Frivaldo valid and legal? If so, did it seasonably cure his lack of citizenship as to qualify him to be proclaimed and to hold the Office of Governor? If not, may it be given retroactive effect? If so, from when?
  2. Is Frivaldo’s “judicially declared” disqualification for lack of Filipino citizenship a continuing bar to his eligibility to run for, be elected to or hold the governorship of Sorsogon?


Under Sec. 39 of the Local Government Code, “(a)n elective local official must be:

* a citizen of the Philippines;

* a registered voter in the barangay, municipality, city, or province . . . where he intends to be elected;

* a resident therein for at least one (1) year immediately preceding the day of the election;

* able to read and write Filipino or any other local language or dialect.

* In addition, “candidates for the position of governor . . . must be at least twenty-three (23) years of age on election day.

From the above, it will be noted that the law does not specify any particular date or time when the candidate must possess citizenship, unlike that for residence (which must consist of at least one year’s residency immediately preceding the day of election) and age (at least twenty three years of age on election day).

Philippine citizenship is an indispensable requirement for holding an elective public office,31 and the purpose of the citizenship qualification is none other than to ensure that no alien, i.e., no person owing allegiance to another nation, shall govern our people and our country or a unit of territory thereof. Now, an official begins to govern or to discharge his functions only upon his proclamation and on the day the law mandates his term of office to begin. Since Frivaldo re-assumed his citizenship on June 30, 1995 — the very day32 the term of office of governor (and other elective officials) began — he was therefore already qualified to be proclaimed, to hold such office and to discharge the functions and responsibilities thereof as of said date. In short, at that time, he was already qualified to govern his native Sorsogon. This is the liberal interpretation that should give spirit, life and meaning to our law on qualifications consistent with the purpose for which such law was enacted. So too, even from a literal (as distinguished from liberal) construction, it should be noted that Section 39 of the Local Government Code speaks of “Qualifications” of “ELECTIVE OFFICIALS”, not of candidates. Why then should such qualification be required at the time of election or at the time of the filing of the certificates of candidacies, as Lee insists? Literally, such qualifications — unless otherwise expressly conditioned, as in the case of age and residence — should thus be possessed when the “elective [or elected] official” begins to govern, i.e., at the time he is proclaimed and at the start of his term — in this case, on June 30, 1995. Paraphrasing this Court’s ruling in Vasquez vs. Giap and Li Seng Giap & Sons, 33 if the purpose of the citizenship requirement is to ensure that our people and country do not end up being governed by aliens, i.e., persons owing allegiance to another nation, that aim or purpose would not be thwarted but instead achieved by construing the citizenship qualification as applying to the time of proclamation of the elected official and at the start of his term.

But perhaps the more difficult objection was the one raised during the oral argument34 to the effect that the citizenship qualification should be possessed at the time the candidate (or for that matter the elected official) registered as a voter. After all, Section 39, apart from requiring the official to be a citizen, also specifies as another item of qualification, that he be a “registered voter”. And, under the law35 a “voter” must be a citizen of the Philippines. So therefore, Frivaldo could not have been a voter — much less a validly registered one — if he was not a citizen at the time of such registration.

The answer to this problem again lies in discerning the purpose of the requirement. If the law intended the citizenship qualification to be possessed prior to election consistent with the requirement of being a registered voter, then it would not have made citizenship a SEPARATE qualification. The law abhors a redundancy. It therefore stands to reason that the law intended CITIZENSHIP to be a qualification distinct from being a VOTER, even if being a voter presumes being a citizen first. It also stands to reason that the voter requirement was included as another qualification (aside from “citizenship”), not to reiterate the need for nationality but to require that the official be registered as a voter IN THE AREA OR TERRITORY he seeks to govern, i.e., the law states: “a registered voter in the barangay, municipality, city, or province . . . where he intends to be elected.” It should be emphasized that the Local Government Code requires an elective official to be a registered voter. It does not require him to vote actually. Hence, registration — not the actual voting — is the core of this “qualification”. In other words, the law’s purpose in this second requirement is to ensure that the prospective official is actually registered in the area he seeks to govern — and not anywhere else.

A reading of P.D. 725 immediately shows that it creates a new right, and also provides for a new remedy, thereby filling certain voids in our laws. Thus, in its preamble, P.D. 725 expressly recognizes the plight of “many Filipino women (who) had lost their Philippine citizenship by marriage to aliens” and who could not, under the existing law (C.A. No. 63, as amended) avail of repatriation until “after the death of their husbands or the termination of their marital status” and who could neither be benefitted by the 1973 Constitution’s new provision allowing “a Filipino woman who marries an alien to retain her Philippine citizenship . . .” because “such provision of the new Constitution does not apply to Filipino women who had married aliens before said constitution took effect.” Thus, P.D. 725 granted a new right to these women — the right to re-acquire Filipino citizenship even during their marital coverture, which right did not exist prior to P.D. 725. On the other hand, said statute also provided a new remedy and a new right in favor of other “natural born Filipinos who (had) lost their Philippine citizenship but now desire to re-acquire Philippine citizenship”, because prior to the promulgation of P.D. 725 such former Filipinos would have had to undergo the tedious and cumbersome process of naturalization, but with the advent of P.D. 725 they could now re-acquire their Philippine citizenship under the simplified procedure of repatriation.

In light of the foregoing, and prescinding from the wording of the preamble, it is unarguable that the legislative intent was precisely to give the statute retroactive operation. “(A) retrospective operation is given to a statute or amendment where the intent that it should so operate clearly appears from a consideration of the act as a whole, or from the terms thereof.”45 It is obvious to the Court that the statute was meant to “reach back” to those persons, events and transactions not otherwise covered by prevailing law and jurisprudence. And inasmuch as it has been held that citizenship is a political and civil right equally as important as the freedom of speech, liberty of abode, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures and other guarantees enshrined in the Bill of Rights, therefore the legislative intent to give retrospective operation to P.D. 725 must be given the fullest effect possible. “(I)t has been said that a remedial statute must be so construed as to make it effect the evident purpose for which it was enacted, so that if the reason of the statute extends to past transactions, as well as to those in the future, then it will be so applied although the statute does not in terms so direct, unless to do so would impair some vested right or violate some constitutional guaranty.”46 This is all the more true of P.D. 725, which did not specify any restrictions on or delimit or qualify the right of repatriation granted therein.

At this point, a valid question may be raised: How can the retroactivity of P.D. 725 benefit Frivaldo considering that said law was enacted on June 5, 1975, while Frivaldo lost his Filipino citizenship much later, on January 20, 1983, and applied for repatriation even later, on August 17, 1994?

While it is true that the law was already in effect at the time that Frivaldo became an American citizen, nevertheless, it is not only the law itself (P.D. 725) which is to be given retroactive effect, but even the repatriation granted under said law to Frivaldo on June 30, 1995 is to be deemed to have retroacted to the date of his application therefor, August 17, 1994. The reason for this is simply that if, as in this case, it was the intent of the legislative authority that the law should apply to past events — i.e., situations and transactions existing even before the law came into being — in order to benefit the greatest number of former Filipinos possible thereby enabling them to enjoy and exercise the constitutionally guaranteed right of citizenship, and such legislative intention is to be given the fullest effect and expression, then there is all the more reason to have the law apply in a retroactive or retrospective manner to situations, events and transactions subsequent to the passage of such law. That is, the repatriation granted to Frivaldo on June 30, 1995 can and should be made to take effect as of date of his application. As earlier mentioned, there is nothing in the law that would bar this or would show a contrary intention on the part of the legislative authority; and there is no showing that damage or prejudice to anyone, or anything unjust or injurious would result from giving retroactivity to his repatriation. Neither has Lee shown that there will result the impairment of any contractual obligation, disturbance of any vested right or breach of some constitutional guaranty.

Being a former Filipino who has served the people repeatedly, Frivaldo deserves a liberal interpretation of Philippine laws and whatever defects there were in his nationality should now be deemed mooted by his repatriation.


Another argument for retroactivity to the date of filing is that it would prevent prejudice to applicants. If P.D. 725 were not to be given retroactive effect, and the Special Committee decides not to act, i.e., to delay the processing of applications for any substantial length of time, then the former Filipinos who may be stateless, as Frivaldo — having already renounced his American citizenship — was, may be prejudiced for causes outside their control. This should not be. In case of doubt in the interpretation or application of laws, it is to be presumed that the law-making body intended right and justice to prevail.

And as experience will show, the Special Committee was able to process, act upon and grant applications for repatriation within relatively short spans of time after the same were filed.48 The fact that such interregna were relatively insignificant minimizes the likelihood of prejudice to the government as a result of giving retroactivity to repatriation. Besides, to the mind of the Court, direct prejudice to the government is possible only where a person’s repatriation has the effect of wiping out a liability of his to the government arising in connection with or as a result of his being an alien, and accruing only during the interregnum between application and approval, a situation that is not present in the instant case.

And it is but right and just that the mandate of the people, already twice frustrated, should now prevail. Under the circumstances, there is nothing unjust or iniquitous in treating Frivaldo’s repatriation as having become effective as of the date of his application, i.e., on August 17, 1994. This being so, all questions about his possession of the nationality qualification — whether at the date of proclamation (June 30, 1995) or the date of election (May 8, 1995) or date of filing his certificate of candidacy (March 20, 1995) would become moot.

Based on the foregoing, any question regarding Frivaldo’s status as a registered voter would also be deemed settled. Inasmuch as he is considered as having been repatriated — i.e., his Filipino citizenship restored — as of August 17, 1994, his previous registration as a voter is likewise deemed validated as of said date.

It is not disputed that on January 20, 1983 Frivaldo became an American. Would the retroactivity of his repatriation not effectively give him dual citizenship, which under Sec. 40 of the Local Government Code would disqualify him “from running for any elective local position?”49 We answer this question in the negative, as there is cogent reason to hold that Frivaldo was really STATELESS at the time he took said oath of allegiance and even before that, when he ran for governor in 1988. In his Comment, Frivaldo wrote that he “had long renounced and had long abandoned his American citizenship — long before May 8, 1995. At best, Frivaldo was stateless in the interim — when he abandoned and renounced his US citizenship but before he was repatriated to his Filipino citizenship.”



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