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EN BANC

JIMMY S. DE CASTRO,
          Petitioner,

G. R. No. 125249

February 7, 1997
            -versus-

COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS
and AMANDO A. MEDRANO,
                Respondents.

D E C I S I O N
HERMOSISIMA, JR., J.:

Before Us is a petition for certiorari raising twin issues as regards the effect of the contestant's death in an election protest: Is said contest a personal action extinguished upon the death of the real party in interest? If not, what is the mandatory period within which to effectuate the substitution of parties?

The following antecedent facts have been culled from the pleadings and are not in dispute:

Petitioner was proclaimed Mayor of Gloria, Oriental Mindoro during the May 8, 1995 elections. In the same elections, private respondent was proclaimed Vice-Mayor of the same municipality.

On May 19, 1995, petitioner's rival candidate, the late Nicolas M. Jamilla, filed an election protest
[1] before the Regional Trial Court of Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro. [2]   During the pendency of the said contest, Jamilla died. [3] Four days after such death or on December 19, 1995, the trial court dismissed the election protest ruling as it did that "[a]s this case is personal, the death of the protestant extinguishes the case itself. The issue or issues brought out in this protest have become moot and academic". [4]

On January 9, 1995, private respondent learned about the dismissal of the protest from one, Atty. Gaudencio S. Sadicon, who, as the late Jamilla's counsel, was the one who informed the trial court of his client's demise. On January 15, 1996, private respondent filed his Omnibus Petition/Motion [For Intervention and/or Substitution with Motion for Reconsideration]. [5] Opposition thereto was filed by petitioner on January 30, 1996. [6]   In an Order dated February 14, 1996, [7] the trial court denied private respondent's Omnibus Petition/Motion and stubbornly held that an election protest being personal to the protestant, is ipso facto terminated by the latter's death.cralaw

Unable to agree with the trial court's dismissal of the election protest, private respondent filed a petition for certiorari and mandamus before the Commission on Elections [COMELEC]; private respondent mainly assailed the trial court orders as having been issued with grave abuse of discretion. COMELEC granted the petition for certiorari and mandamus. [8] It ruled that an election contest involves both the private interests of the rival candidates and the public interest in the final determination of the real choice of the electorate, and for this reason, an election contest necessarily survives the death of the protestant or the protestee.cralaw

We agree.cralaw

It is true that a public office is personal to the public officer and is not a property transmissible to his heirs upon death. [9] Thus, applying the doctrine of actio personalis moritur cum persona, upon the death of the incumbent, no heir of his may be allowed to continue holding his office in his place.
But while the right to a public office is personal and exclusive to the  public officer, an election protest is not purely personal and exclusive to the protestant or to the protestee such that the death of either would oust the court of all authority to continue the protest proceedings.cralaw

An election contest, after all, involves not merely conflicting private aspirations but is imbued with paramount public interests. As We have held in the case of Vda. de De Mesa v. Mencias: [10]

    It is axiomatic that an election contest, involving as it does not only the adjudication and settlement of the private interests of the rival candidates but also the paramount need of dispelling once and for all the uncertainty that beclouds the real choice of the electorate with respect to who shall discharge the prerogatives of the offices within their gift, is a proceeding imbued with public interest which raises it into a plane over and above ordinary civil actions. For this reason, broad perspectives of public policy impose upon courts the imperative duty to ascertain by all means within their command who is the real candidate elected in as expeditious a manner as possible, without being fettered by technicalities and procedural barriers to the end that the will of the people may not be frustrated [Ibasco vs. Ilao, et al., G. R. L-17512, December 29, 1960; Reforma vs. De Luna, G. R. L-13242, July 31, 1958]. So inextricably intertwined are the interests of the contestants and those of the public that there can be no gainsaying the logic of the proposition that even the voluntary cessation in office of the protestee not only does not ipso facto divest him of the character of an adversary in the contest inasmuch as he retains a party interest to keep his political opponent out of the office and maintain therein his successor, but also does not in any manner impair or detract from the jurisdiction of the court to pursue the proceeding to its final conclusion [De Los Angeles vs. Rodriguez, 46 Phil. 595, 597; Salcedo vs.  Hernandez, 62 Phil. 584, 587; Galves vs.  Maramba, G. R. L-13206].
    Upon the same principle, the death of the protestee De Mesa did not abate the proceedings in the election protest filed against him, and it may be stated as a rule that an election contest survives and must be prosecuted to final judgment despite the death of the protestee. [11]

The death of the protestant, as in this case, neither constitutes a ground for the dismissal of the contest nor ousts the trial court of its jurisdiction to decide the election contest. Apropos is the following pronouncement of this Court in the case of Lomugdang v. Javier:
[12]
      Determination of whether a candidate has been in fact elected is a matter clothed with public interest, wherefore, public policy demands that an election contest, duly commenced, be not abated by the death of the contestant. We have squarely so ruled in Sibulo Vda. de Mesa vs. Judge Mencias, G. R. No. L-24583, October 29, 1966, in the same spirit that led this Court to hold that the ineligibility of the protestant is not a defense [Caesar vs. Garrido, 53 Phil. 57], and that the protestee's cessation in office is not a ground for the dismissal of the contest nor detract the Court's jurisdiction to decide the case [Angeles vs. Rodriguez, 46 Phil. 595; Salcedo vs. Hernandez, 62 Phil. 584]. [13]

The asseveration of petitioner that private respondent is not a real party in interest entitled to be substituted in the election protest in place of the late Jamilla, is utterly without legal basis. Categorical was our ruling in Vda. de Mesa and Lomugdang that:
    The Vice Mayor elect has the status of a real party in interest in the continuation of the proceedings and is entitled to intervene therein. For if the protest succeeds and the Protestee is unseated, the Vice-Mayor succeeds to the office of Mayor that becomes vacant if the one duly elected cannot assume the post. [14]

To finally dispose of this case, We rule that the filing by private respondent of his Omnibus Petition/Motion on January 15, 1996, well within the period of thirty days from December 19, 1995 when Jamilla's counsel informed the trial court of Jamilla's death, was in compliance with Section 17, Rule 3 of the Revised Rules of Court. Since the Rules of Court, though not generally applicable to election cases, may, however, be applied by analogy or in a suppletory character,
[15] private respondent was correct to rely thereon.

The above jurisprudence is not ancient; in fact these legal moorings have been recently reiterated in the 1991 case of De la Victoria vs. COMELEC. [16] If only petitioner's diligence in updating himself with case law is as spirited as his persistence in pursuing his legal asseverations up to the highest court of the land, no doubt further derailment of the election protest proceedings could have been avoided.cralaw

WHEREFORE, premises considered, the instant petition for certiorari is hereby DISMISSED. Costs against petitioner.cralaw

SO ORDERED.cralaw

Narvasa, C.J., Padilla, Regalado, Davide, Jr., Romero, Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Vitug, Kapunan, Mendoza, Francisco, Panganiban and Torres, Jr., JJ., concur.cralaw

_________________________________
Endnotes


[1]
Election Protest Case No. 8-95.

[2] Branch 41 presided by Judge Antonio R Quizon.
[3] Jamilla died on December 15, 1995.
[4] Order dated December 19, 1995; Rollo, p. 26.
[5] Rollo, pp. 78-83.
[6] ld., pp. 85-86.
[7] Id., p. 27.
[8] Resolution of the COMELEC dated May 28, 1996, penned by Commissioner Julio F. Desamito; Rollo, pp. 19-24.
[9] Santos v. Secretary of labor, 22 SCRA 848, 850 [1968].
[10] 18 SCRA 533 [1966].
[11] Id., p. 538.
[12] 21 SCRA 402 [1967].
[13] Id., p. 407.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Vda. De Mesa v. Mencias, 18 SCRA 533, 539 [1966].
[16] 199 SCRA 561.