Petitioner Ireneo A. Manahan and private respondent Abundia L. Garcia were candidates for the mayoralty of the Municipality of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija during the May 8, 1995 elections.chanrobles law library
On May 11, 1995, private respondent filed a petition with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), docketed as SPA No. 95-180, to suspend the canvass of the election returns on account of the alleged irregularities committed by petitioner during the elections like snatching and burning of ballot boxes and preventing watchers of petitioner from taking close watch of the proceedings in the precincts. 1
On the same day, however, after completion of the canvass, petitioner was proclaimed the winning candidate for mayor of the said municipality.
On May 12, 1995, private respondent filed another petition with the COMELEC, docketed as SPC No. 95-058, to declare the proclamation of petitioner null and void. 2
On May 16, 1995, private respondent filed an appeal to the COMELEC praying for the exclusion of the election returns from eighteen (18) precincts and for the declaration as null and void of the proclamation of petitioner as mayor of Cabiao. Said appeal was docketed as SPC No. 95-089. 3
On May 24, 1995, the COMELEC dismissed private respondent’s appeal in SPC No. 95-089. 4 The COMELEC ruled that private respondent’s complaint regarding the alleged snatching and taking away of ballot boxes, the exclusion of her watchers from the precincts through threats and intimidation and the delay in the delivery of some ballot boxes to the Municipal Building, are proper grounds for an election protest and not a pre-proclamation controversy. The COMELEC further reasoned out that the presence of threats and intimidation in the preparation of the election returns was not substantiated; that formal defects regarding election returns do not affect their genuineness or authenticity; and that a conclusion that an election return is manufactured or false should be approached with extreme caution and needs the most convincing proof. Finally, the COMELEC expounded that petitioner’s proclamation had been rendered moot and academic by private respondent’s appeal, without prejudice to the seasonable filing in the proper forum of an election protest.
On May 26, 1995, the COMELEC dismissed private respondent’s petition in SPC No. 95-058 for lack of merit, stating that the latter’s remedy was an election protest before the regular courts. 5
On June 29, 1995, the COMELEC, likewise, dismissed private respondent’s petition in SPA No. 95-180 citing substantially the same reasons given in the two (2) preceding resolutions. 6
Meanwhile, on June 5, 1995, private respondent as protestant filed a Petition Ad Cautelam 7 before the Regional Trial Court of Gapan, Nueva Ecija, Branch 34, docketed as Election Protest No. 95-04, praying for the following reliefs, viz:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
WHEREFORE, it is respectfully prayed of this Honorable Court that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
1. Upon filing of this contest, an Order be issued directing that the list of voters, the documents used in the election, ballots, ballot boxes and their keys and other relevant items be kept and held secure in the offices of the Honorable Court, in the care and custody of the Clerk of Court under the authority of the Presiding Judge.
2. After hearing, a judgment be rendered:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
a. Ordering a recount and/or revision of the ballots in Precincts Nos. 01, 1-A, 2, 2-A, 3, 3-A, 4, 4-A, 5-M, 5-A, 10-M, 12, 13-A, 20, 20-A, 21-M, 21-M-l, 21-A, 21-A-I, 22, 22-A, 23, 23-A, 24, 24-A, 36, 36-A, 37, 37-A, 38, 39, 40, 41, 41-A, 42, 42-A, 43, 43-A, 44, 44-A, 46, 48, 48-A, 49-M, 49-M-1, 49-A, 51, 51-A, 53, 53-A, 55, 55-A, 56, 56-A, 57, 57-A, 58, 58-A, 59, 59-A, 63, 63-A, 64 and 64-A of the Municipality of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija, insofar as the votes for Mayor are concerned;
b. Declaring the Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation of the Winning Candidates dated 11 May 1995 proclaiming the protestee, IRENEO MANAHAN, as the duly elected Mayor of the Municipality of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija as null and void;
c. Declaring, after recounting and/or revision, the protestant as the duly elected Mayor of the Municipality of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija;
d. Ordering protestee to pay protestant moral damages in the amount of One Million Pesos (P1,000,000.00); and
e. Ordering protestee to pay protestant attorney’s fees in the amount of One Million Pesos (P1,000,000.00) plus cost of suit and revision.
The protestant further prays for other relief just and equitable. 8
Thereafter, petitioner filed three (3) motions with the trial court, to wit: Motion to Dismiss, 9 Supplemental Motion to Dismiss 10 and Motion (to declare petition ad cautelum automatically dismissed), 11 all alleging that the petition ad cautelum was filed beyond the 10-day reglementary period for filing an election protest, that it states no cause of action and that private respondent is not entitled to a judicial recount. All three motions were opposed by private Respondent
Before the foregoing motions could be resolved, petitioner sought the inhibition of Judge Rogelio de Guzman to whom the case was raffled for resolution. Said judge, though not finding any compelling reason for his inhibition, nonetheless inhibited himself from hearing the case. Consequently, the case was assigned to respondent judge.
Petitioner again sought the inhibition of respondent judge but the latter denied the motion.
Petitioner then brought the matter to the Court of Appeals via a petition for certiorari
docketed as CA-G.R. SP. No. 39492, raising the issue of the denial of his motion to inhibit respondent judge. On March 29, 1996, the Court of Appeals denied the petition.
Aggrieved by the ruling, petitioner filed a petition for certiorari
before this Court, docketed as G.R. No, 124423, alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Court of Appeals in denying his petition. On May 28, 1996, this Court dismissed said petition on the ground that the same was not the proper remedy; and even if the petition was treated as one under Rule 45, it would still be denied as there was no reversible error committed by the public Respondent
In the meantime, respondent judge resolved all the pending incidents of the case and issued an Order dated April 23, 1996, which dispositively reads:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
WHEREFORE, the motion to dismiss and the supplemental motion thereto as well as the motion to declare the petition automatically dismissed are denied for lack of merit. The revision or recounting of the ballot in Precinct Nos. 01, 1-A, 2, 2-A, 3, 3-A, 4, 4-A, 5-M, 5-A, 10-M, 12, 13-A, 20, 20-A, 21-M, 21-M-1, 21-A, 21-A-I, 22, 22-A, 23, 23-A, 24, 24-A, 36, 36-A, 37, 37-A, 38, 39, 40, 41, 41-A, 42, 42-A, 43, 43-A, 44, 44-A, 46, 48, 48-A, 49-M, 49-M-l, 49-A, 51, 51-A, 53, 53-A, 55, 55-A, 56, 56-A, 57 57-A, 58, 58-A, 59, 59-A, 63, 63-A, 64 and 64-A is ordered.
In this connection, the protestant is directed to make a cash deposit of P300.00 for every ballot box.chanrobles virtual lawlibrary
SO ORDERED. 12
Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration was denied in an Order of respondent judge dated May 15, 1996. 13
Petitioner filed a second motion for reconsideration but the same was, likewise, denied in an Order dated July 19, 1996. 14
Hence, the instant petition raising the same issues brought before the trial court, that is, whether or not (1) the election case was filed within the 10-day reglementary period for filing election protests under Section 251 of the Omnibus Election Code and (2) private respondent is entitled to a judicial recount of the votes.
The petition is not impressed with merit.
Petitioner contends that while he was proclaimed mayor of Cabiao, Nueva Ecija on May 11, 1995, private respondent filed the instant election protest against him only on June 5, 1995 which was clearly beyond the 10-day reglementary period for filing election protests for municipal officers under Section 251 15 of the Omnibus Election Code.
This argument must fall. While Section 251 provides that all election contests involving municipal offices prescribe 10 days after proclamation of the results is made, under Section 248 of the same Code, 16 the filing with the COMELEC of a petition to annul or to suspend the proclamation of any candidate suspends the running of the 10-day period within which to file an election protest.
As previously pointed out, private respondent filed three (3) petitions with the COMELEC, all aimed at stopping the proclamation of the winner in the elections for mayor. First, she filed a petition to suspend the canvass of election returns and proclamation of a winner in the morning of May 11, 1995, before petitioner was proclaimed mayor. Second, she filed a petition to declare the proclamation of petitioner null and void on May 12, 1995. Third, on May 16, 1995 she filed an appeal to the COMELEC questioning the MBC’s ruling on the inclusion of several disputed election returns in the canvass and in proclaiming petitioner winner in the election. The first was resolved on June 29, 1995, the second on May 26, 1995, and the third on May 24, 1995. Private respondent received a copy of the resolution of the COMELEC dated May 24, 1995 in SPA No. 95-089 only on May 30, 1995. Evidently, the ten-day period within which to file an election protest had not yet expired when private respondent instituted her petition on June 5, 1995 before the Regional Trial Court contesting petitioner’s election as the filing of the three (3) aforementioned petitions before the COMELEC tolled or suspended the running of the 10-day prescriptive period.
Anent the second issue, petitioner maintains that respondent judge committed grave abuse of discretion in ordering the re-opening of the ballot boxes and the recounting of the votes without first requiring private respondent to prove the allegations in her protest.
This contention is specious.
When private respondent seasonably filed with the court a quo her election protest against petitioner, she averred as grounds therefor alleged anomalies and irregularities consisting of, inter alia, (a) rampant switching of ballot boxes and stuffing of ballot boxes with fake ballots, (b) misappreciation, misreading, and non-reading of ballots pertaining to her, (c) multiple and inaccurate counting of votes in favor of petitioner, (d) erroneous computation of votes, and (e) widespread irregularities in the conduct of the election. Clearly, the grounds thus invoked require the opening of ballot boxes to effect the careful perusal, examination and/or recounting of ballots in order to resolve the election contest. Such recourse is explicitly provided in Section 255 of the Omnibus Election Code:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
SEC. 255. Judicial counting of votes in election contest. — Where allegations in a protest or counter-protest so warrant, or whenever in the opinion of the court the interests of justice so require, it shall immediately order the book of voters, ballot boxes and their keys, ballots and other documents used in the election be brought before it and that the ballots be examined and the votes recounted.chanroblesvirtual|awlibrary
The above-quoted provision does not require that there be further proof than the allegations of the protest before the court may allow the examination of the ballots and the recounting of votes. The rationale for the doctrine was elucidated in Astorga v. Fernandez, 17 to wit:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
. . . Obviously the simplest, the most expeditious and the best means to determine the truth or falsity of this allegation is to open the ballot box and examine its contents. To require parol or other evidence on said alleged irregularity before opening said box, would have merely given the protestee ample opportunity to delay the settlement of the controversy, through lengthy cross-examination of the witnesses for the protestant and the presentation of testimonial evidence for the protestee to the contrary. As held in Cecilio v. Belmonte (supra), this "would be to sanction an easy way to defeat a protest."cralaw virtua1aw library
In Crispino v. Panganiban, 18 penned by Justice Hilario G. Davide, Jr., citing Pareja v. Narvasa, 19 this Court categorically declared that:chanrob1es virtual 1aw library
Time and again, this Supreme Court has declared in numerous cases that, when there is an allegation in an election protest that would require the perusal, examination, or counting of ballots as evidence, it is the ministerial duty of the trial court to order the opening of the ballot boxes and the examination and counting of the ballots deposited therein.
Accordingly, we hold that respondent judge committed no grave abuse of discretion in denying the petitioner’s motion to dismiss, supplemental motion to dismiss as well as the motion to declare private respondent’s petition ad cautelam automatically dismissed and in ordering the revision and/or recounting of the ballots in the disputed precincts.
PREMISES CONSIDERED, the instant petition is hereby DISMISSED.
, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Mendoza, Francisco and Martinez, JJ.
, took no part; counsel for private respondent was a former law partner.
1. Rollo, pp. 110-113.
2. Id., at 114-119.
3. Id., at 120-127.
4. Id., at 62-66.
5. Id., at 186-187.
6. Id., at 185.
7. Id., at 69-79.
8. Id., at 76-77.
9. Id., at 100-105.
10. Id., at 135-157.
11. Id., at 215-217.
12. Id., at 24-27.
13. Id., at 35.
14. Id., at 67.
15. SEC. 251. Election contests for municipal offices. — A sworn petition contesting the election of a municipal officer shall be filed with the proper regional trial court by any candidate who has duly filed a certificate of candidacy and has been voted for the same office, within ten days after proclamation of the results of the election.
16. SEC. 248. Effect of filing petition to annul or to suspend the proclamation. — The filing with the Commission of a petition to annul or to suspend the proclamation of any candidate shall suspend the running of the period within which to file an election protest or quo warranto proceedings.
17. 19 SCRA 331, 335 .
18. 219 SCRA 621 .
19. 81 Phil. 22, 26 .