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Case Digest: Lico v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 205505, 29 September 2015

Lico v. COMELEC, G.R. No. 205505, 29 September 2015

TOPIC: Party-list System of the Philippines (Republic Act 7941)


Ating Koop is a multi-sectoral party-list organization which was registered on 16 November 2009 under Republic Act (R.A.) No. 7941, also known as the Party-List System Act (Party-List Law).

Under Ating Koop’s Constitution and By-Laws, its highest policymaking body is the National Convention. The Central Committee, however, takes over when the National Convention is not in session.

On 30 November 2009, Ating Koop filed its Manifestation of Intent to Participate in the Party-List System of Representation for the 10 May 2010 Elections. On 6 March 2010, it filed with the COMELEC the list of its nominees, with petitioner Lico as first nominee and Roberto Mascarina as second nominee.

Several months prior to its proclamation as one of the winning party-list organizations, or on 9 June 2010, Ating Koop issued Central Committee Resolution 2010-01, which incorporated a term-sharing agreement signed by its nominees. Under the agreement, petitioner Lico was to serve as Party-list Representative for the first year of the three-year  term.

On 14 May 2011, Ating Koop held its Second National Convention, during which it introduced amendments to its Constitution and By-laws. In effect, the amendments cut short the three-year term of the incumbent members (referred to hereafter as the Interim Central Committee) of the Central Committee.  The  Interim Central Committee was dominated by members of the Rimas Group.

On 5 December 2011, or almost one year after petitioner Lico had assumed office, the Interim Central Committee expelled him from Ating Koop for disloyalty. Apart from  allegations of malversation and graft and corruption, the Committee cited petitioner Lico’s refusal to honor the term-sharing agreement as factual basis for disloyalty and as cause  for his expulsion under Ating Koop’s Amended Constitution and By-laws.

In both the Petition and the Amended Petition, the Rimas Group alleged that Ating Koop had expelled Congressman Lico for acts inimical to the party-list group, such as malversation, graft and corruption, and that he had “boldly displayed his recalcitrance to honor party commitment to be upright and consistently honest, thus violating basic principles of the Ating Koop.” The Amended Petition stated further that the Cebu meeting held by the Lico Group violated notice and quorum requirements.

In a Resolution, the COMELEC Second Division upheld the expulsion of petitioner Lico from Ating Koop and declared Mascarina as the duly qualified nominee of the party-list group. The Second Division characterized the issue of the validity of the expulsion of petitioner Lico from Ating Koop as an intra-party leadership dispute, which it could resolve as an incident of its power to register political parties.

Consequently, the Lico Group filed a Motion for Reconsideration from the Second Division’s Resolution, which the COMELEC En Banc denied on 31 January 2013.


  1. WON the COMELEC has jurisdiction over the expulsion of a Member of the House of Representatives from his party-list organization
  2. Which group represents Ating Koop


  1. No, the COMELEC has no jurisdiction over the expulsion of a Member of the House of Representatives from his party-list organization, however, proceeded to rule upon the validity of his expulsion from Ating Koop – a matter beyond its purview. Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution[34] endows the HRET with jurisdiction to resolve questions on the qualifications of members of Congress. In the case of party-list  representatives, the HRET acquires jurisdiction over a disqualification case upon proclamation of the winning party-list group, oath of the nominee, and assumption of office as  member of the House of Representatives.[35] In this case, the COMELEC proclaimed Ating Koop as a winning party-list group; petitioner Lico took his oath; and he assumed office in the House of Representatives. Thus, it is the HRET, and not the COMELEC, that has jurisdiction over the disqualification case.

The rules on intra-party matters and on the jurisdiction of the HRET are not parallel concepts that do not intersect. Rather, the operation of the rule on intra-party matters is circumscribed by Section 17 of Article VI of the 1987 Constitution and jurisprudence on the jurisdiction of electoral tribunals. The jurisdiction of the HRET is exclusive. It is given full authority to hear and decide the cases on any matter touching on the validity of the title of the proclaimed winner.

In the present case, the Petition for petitioner Lico’s expulsion from the House of Representatives is anchored on his expulsion from Ating Koop, which necessarily affects his title as member of Congress. A party-list nominee must have been, among others, a bona fide member of the party or organization for at least ninety (90) days preceding the day of the election. Needless to say, bona fide membership in the party-list group is a continuing qualification. We have ruled that qualifications for public office, whether elective or not, are continuing requirements. They must be possessed not only at the time of appointment or election, or of assumption of office, but during the officer’s entire tenure.

This is not the first time that this Court has passed upon the issue of HRET jurisdiction over the requirements for bona fide membership in a party-list organization. In Abayon v. HRET, it was argued that the petitioners did not belong to the marginalized and under-represented sectors that they should represent; as such, they could not be properly considered bona fide members of their respective party-list organizations. The Court held that it was for the HRET to interpret the meaning of the requirement of bona fide membership in a party-list organization. It reasoned that under Section 17, Article VI of the Constitution, the HRET is the sole judge of all contests when it comes to qualifications of the members of the House of Representatives.

Consequently, the COMELEC failed to recognize that the issue on the validity of petitioner Lico’s expulsion from Ating Koop is integral to the issue of his qualifications to sit in Congress. This is not merely an error of law but an error of jurisdiction correctible by a writ of certiorari; the COMELEC should not have encroached into the expulsion issue, as it was outside its authority to do so.

  1. At the outset, We reject the Lico Group’s argument that the COMELEC has no jurisdiction to decide which of the feuding groups is to be recognized, and that it is the Regional Trial Court which has jurisdiction over intra-corporate controversies. Indeed, the COMELECs jurisdiction to settle the struggle for leadership within the party is well established. This power to rule upon questions of party identity and leadership is exercised by the COMELEC as an incident of its enforcement powers.

That being said, We find the COMELEC to have committed grave abuse of discretion in declaring the Rimas Group as the legitimate set of Ating Koop officers for the simple reason that the amendments to the Constitution and By-laws of Ating Koop were not registered with the COMELEC. Hence, neither of the elections held during the Cebu meeting and the Paranaque conference pursuant to the said amendments, were valid.

Both the Lico Group and the Rimas Group indeed assert that their respective elections were conducted pursuant to the amendment introduced in the Second National Convention held on 14 May 2011. In particular, Section 1 of Article VI of Ating Koop’s By-laws called for the conduct of an election of Central Committee members within six months after the Second National Convention.

A party-list organization owes its existence to the State and the latter’s approval must be obtained through its agent, the COMELEC. In the 2013 case of Dayao v. COMELEC, We declared that it is the State, acting through the COMELEC, that breathes life to a party-list organization. The implication, therefore, is that the State, through the COMELEC, is a party to the principal contracts entered into by the party-list organization and its members – the Constitution and By-laws – such that any amendment to these contracts would constitute a novation requiring the consent of all the parties involved. An amendment to the bylaws of a party-list organization should become effective only upon approval by the COMELEC.

Such a prerequisite is analogous to the requirement of filing of the amended by-laws and subsequent conformity thereto of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) under corporation law. Under the Corporation Code, an amendment to a by-law provision must be filed with the SEC. The amendment shall be effective only upon the issuance by the SEC of a certification that it is not inconsistent with the Corporation Code.

There being no showing that the amendments on the by-laws of Ating Koop were filed with and subsequently approved by the COMELEC, any election conducted pursuant thereto may not be considered valid. Without such requisite proof, neither the Lico Group nor the Rimas Group can claim to be the legitimate set of officers of Ating Koop.

Even assuming arguendo that the amendment calling for a special election were effective, this Court still cannot declare any of the feuding groups as the legitimate set of officers considering that the respective sets of evidence presented were evenly balanced. With respect to the Lico Group’s Cebu meeting, the COMELEC correctly found – and the records bear out – that the notices sent were deficient and that there was no sufficient proof of quorum. Hence, the Cebu meeting was held to be invalid. On the other hand, the COMELEC failed to appreciate the fact that the Paranaque convention suffered from the same infirmity, the records of the said convention, consisting merely of the Minutes thereof, likewise fail to establish due notice and a quorum.

Accordingly, as neither group can sufficiently lay claim to legitimacy, the equipoise doctrine comes into play. This rule provides that when the evidence in an issue of fact is in equipoise, that is, when the respective sets of evidence of both parties are evenly balanced, the party having the burden of proof fails in that issue. Since neither party succeeds in making out a case, neither side prevails. The courts are left with no other option but to leave them as they are. The consequence, therefore, is the dismissal of the complaint/petition.

The Rimas Group, being the petitioner before the COMELEC, had the burden of proving that it is the petitioner, and not the Lico Group, that is the legitimate group. As the evidence of both parties are in equipoise, the Rimas Group failed to discharge its burden. The COMELEC should have dismissed the petition of the Rimas Group insofar as it sought to be declared the legitimate group representing Ating Koop.

We find such legitimate leadership to be the Interim Central Committee, whose members remain as such in a hold-over capacity.

Expulsion – HRET

Intra-party disputes – Comelec



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