MANILA, Philippines—The Court of Appeals has ordered the reinstatement of show biz couple Aga Muhlach and Charlene Gonzales as legitimate voters of San Jose, Camarines Sur.
In a 19-page decision dated Feb. 13, the court’s 12th division reversed the earlier rulings of two Camarines Sur judges who delisted the couple from the registration records of the Commission on Elections.
The appellate court said Muhlach and Gonzales “have more than sufficiently complied with the residency requirement in law,” saying the Omnibus Election Code and Republic Act No. 8189 or the Voter’s Registration Act of 1996 clearly stated that the reckoning period for the residency requirement of a prospective voter shall be at least six months immediately preceding the elections.
For the May 13, 2013 polls, therefore, a prospective voter should have resided in the city or municipality where he intends to vote on or before Nov. 13, 2012.
In a decision penned by Justice Vicente Veloso Jr. the appellate court said the local court committed a “grave error” when it held that the reckoning period for residency at San Jose was six months prior to the date of registration.
Muhlach and Gonzales registered in Barangay San Juan, San Jose, on March 19, 2012. The following month, several residents filed a petition before the election registration board of San Jose to exclude the couple on grounds of nonresidency.
However, the Election Registration Board approved the registration in September.
Undeterred, the residents filed a case to reverse the ERB decision before the municipal circuit trial court, which ruled against the
Muhlach and Gonzales appealed to the regional trial court, which also ruled against them on Dec. 17, 2012. The RTC cited a Comelec resolution which states that any person who has not reached the required period of residency may register not earlier than May 12, 2012. Thus, the RTC ruled that the couple should have been residents of San Jose as early as September 2011 but the ERB had established that they were considered residents starting Feb. 17, 2012.
In their certiorari case filed before the Court of Appeals, Muhlach and Gonzales said the Comelec resolution was merely directory and not a qualification to register as a voter. The justices agreed, adding that the RTC’s interpretation of the resolution was “patently erroneous.”
“A citizen cannot be disenfranchised for the flimsiest reasons grounds, and upon clear and convincing proof, may a citizen be deemed to have forfeited this precious heritage of freedom,” the Court said.
The other division members, Justice Jane Aurora Lantion and Eduardo Peralta Jr., concurred in the decision. Peralta opined that
technically, Muhlach and Gonzales only became registered voters when their applications were approved on Sept. 28, 2012.
Muhlach is running for a congressional seat to represent Camarines Sur’s fourth district under the Liberal Party.