October 4, 2018

Alvarez v Villaviray: the Controversial 1934 Nasugbu Municipal President’s Election

Image source:  Aerous [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.
Image source:  Aerous [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons.
[In this article: Batangas Province, Nasugbu Batangas, American Colonial Era Philippines, Municipal President, municipal elections Batangas, Supreme Court decisions Philippines]
From a December 1934 decision of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, we obtain the story of a controversial municipal election in the town of Nasugbu in Batangas back in 1934 during the American colonial era1. The position in question was that of municipal president, which “is comparable to a mayor of a town or city2.”

The position was contested by candidates Crisanto Villaviray and Ciriaco Alvarez. When the election ended, the municipal council buckled down to the task of counting the votes. At the end of the counting, a total of 518 votes were adjudged in favor of Alvarez while 515 were for Villaviray. The council, therefore, proclaimed Alvarez the duly elected municipal president.

Convinced that there was an anomaly, Villaviray filed a protest at the Batangas Court of First Instance. The lower court re-canvassed the votes and this time adjudged him winner with 518 votes compared to 509 for Alvarez. It was then the latter’s turn to protest, elevating the decision for review by the Supreme Court.

In all, 36 ballots were contested. Contemporary readers will probably find the reasons why these ballots became contentious amusing, but it has to be pointed out that any decisions that the Supreme Court of that era passed would have to be in consideration of the existing Election Law.

Upon review of these contentious ballots, some of the Supreme Court’s views went against the appellant Alvarez. For instance:

• It ruled that the Court of First Instance was correct in rejecting a ballot that said “Baris.” One rather suspects that the problem with this ballot was one of literacy – or the lack of it – but it was the opinion of the highest court that it did “not sufficiently indicate the intention of the voter to vote for Ciriaco Alvarez.”

• The Supreme Court also rejected another apparent vote for Alvarez on the basis of a technicality. The name was written NOT on the line intended for votes for the Municipal President but, instead, on the line for the election of members of the Provincial Board. The highest court admitted that, if this was indeed an error, it was caused by the design of the prescribed ballot. Nonetheless, its decision was still, as one would have guessed, in compliance with the Election Law.

• The Court of First Instance was adjudged to have correctly rejected one ballot, presumably one that said only “Ciriaco,” because it only contained the candidate’s first name. While a ballot that said “Crisanto V” was accepted, there was a legal precedent for this, something that the ballot in question did not have going for it.

There were, however, decisions of the highest court that went the way of Alvarez. We take a look at some of these:

• Three ballots that the Court of First Instance rejected because these included bogus names in slots or lines reserved for other government positions were counted for Alvarez by the Supreme Court, who explained: “The fact that on these three ballots out of a total of over a thousand votes three different persons were voted for another office who were not candidates does not destroy these ballots.”

• A ballot that said “Vera Alis,” said the Supreme Court, should have been rejected as a vote in favor of Villaviray. The latter’s brief tried to argue that Alis was his maternal name, but the highest court found that there was nothing on record to support this.

• One ballot rejected by the Court of First Instance because the name Ciriaco was spelled with an “S” should have been, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, counted. The highest court explained: “It is well known that "C" at the beginning of the name Ciriaco has commonly the same sound as "S." Furthermore, the name Ciriaco is frequently spelled Siriaco.”

• It was the Supreme Court’s opinion that several votes erstwhile rejected by the Court of First Instance on the basis of the name being misspelled should have been counted, taking into consideration the matter of voters’ literacy – again, or the lack of it. These votes, evidently for Alvarez – or so the Supreme Court opined – were Siryaco Albiz, Ceria Alvaris, and Ciriaco Alabaris. Not everything went Alvarez’s way as far as misspellings went. The highest court ruled that one vote that said “Sariko Albs” 😀 should have been rejected.

In the end, the appeal proved to be a beneficial one for Alvarez after the Supreme Court ruled in his favor:
“The revision of the ballots thus made added to the ballots uncontested gives Crisanto Villaviray 516 votes and Ciriaco Alvarez 518 votes. It results that the judgment appealed from must be reversed and Ciriaco Alvarez declared the duly elected municipal president of the municipality of Nasugbu, without special pronouncement as to costs in this instance. So ordered.”
Notes and references:
1 The primary details of this article are from “Cristanto Villaviray (protestant-appelant) v Ciriaco Alvarez and Florencio Olan (protestees) and Ciriaco Alvarez (appellant),” online at the LawPhil Project.
2Municipal president,” Wikipedia.

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