Penera and private respondent Edgar T. Andanar were mayoralty candidates in Sta. Monica during the 14 May 2007 elections. On 2 April 2007, Andanar filed before the Office of the Regional Election Director, Caraga Region (Region XIII), a Petition for Disqualification against Penera, as well as the candidates for Vice-Mayor and Sangguniang Bayan who belonged to her political party, for unlawfully engaging in election campaigning and partisan political activity prior to the commencement of the campaign period.
Rosalinda A. Penera’s filed a motion for reconsideration of this Court’s Decision of 11 September 2009.The assailed Decision dismissed Penera’s petition and affirmed the Resolution dated 30 July 2008 of the COMELEC En Banc as well as the Resolution dated 24 July 2007 of the COMELEC Second Division. The Decision disqualified Penera from running for the office of Mayor in Sta. Monica, Surigao del Norte and declared that the Vice-Mayor should succeed Penera.
Is Penera guilty of premature campaigning? May premature campaigning be committed by a person who is not a candidate?
No to both. Under the assailed September 11, 2009 Decision, a candidate may already be liable for premature campaigning after the filing of the certificate of candidacy but even before the start of the campaign period. Thus, such person can be disqualified for premature campaigning for acts done before the start of the campaign period. In short, the Decision considers a person who files a certificate of candidacy already “candidate” even before the start of the campaign period.
Now the Court holds that the assailed Decision is contrary to the clear intent and letter of the law. In Lanot v. COMELEC,it held that a person who files a certificate of candidacy is not a candidate until the start of the campaign period. Lanot was decided on the ground that one who files a certificate of candidacy is not a candidate until the start of the campaign period.
Congress elevated the Lanot doctrine into a statute by specifically inserting it as the second sentence of the third paragraph of the amended Section 15 of RA 8436. In RA 9369, Congress inserted the word “only” so that the first proviso now reads:
x x x Provided, that, unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the aforesaid campaign period x x x.
Thus, Congress not only reiterated but also strengthened its mandatory directive that election offenses can be committed by a candidate “only” upon the start of the campaign period. This clearly means that before the start of the campaign period, such election offenses cannot be so committed.
In layman’s language, this means that a candidate is liable for an election offense only for acts done during the campaign period, not before. The law is clear as daylight — any election offense that may be committed by a candidate under any election law cannot be committed before the start of the campaign period. In ruling that Penera is liable for premature campaigning for partisan political acts before the start of the campaigning, the assailed Decision ignores the clear and express provision of the law.