Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Atienza vs. COMELEC [G.R. No. 108533 December 20, 1994]

Facts: Private respondent Antonio Sia was elected mayor of the Municipality of Madrilejos, Cebu in the 1988 local elections obtaining a plurality of 126 votes over petitioner Lou Atienza. Following Sia’s proclamation by the Municipal Board of Canvassers, petitioner filed an election protest with the RTC questioning the results of the elections in a number of precincts in the municipality. Consequently, in the revision ordered by the lower court, petitioner obtained a total of 2,826 votes, a plurality of 12 votes over the private respondent. The RTC rendered its decision declaring petitioner the winner of the municipal elections and ordering the private respondent to reimburse petitioner the amount of P300,856.19 representing petitioner’s expenses in the election protest. 

The COMELEC en banc issued an Order setting aside the preliminary injunction and thereby allowing petitioner to assume as mayor of the Municipality of Madrilejos pending resolution of his appeal. However, following the synchronized elections of May 11, 1992, the Presiding Commissioner of the COMELEC’s Second Division issued an Order dismissing petitioner’s appeal for being moot and academic pursuant to the Commission’s decision in Resolution No. 2494 declaring the election protest and appeal cases arising out of the January 18, 1988 elections dismissed and terminated as of June 30, 1992. Thereupon, private respondent sought clarification of the order of dismissal of EAC No. 20-89 referred to the protest case in the Regional Trial Court or to the appeal case in COMELEC. In response, the Second Division of COMELEC stated that it is only the appeal case that was dismissed for being moot and academic, not the money judgment of the trial court. 

Issue: Did the COMELEC abuse its discretion in reversing that portion of the trial court's decision awarding election expenses in the amount of P300,856.19? 

Held: No. The Omnibus Election Code provides: “Actual or compensatory damages may be granted in all election contests or in quo warranto proceedings in accordance with law.” Article 2199 of the Civil Code mandates that: “Except as provided by law or by stipulation, one is entitled to an adequate compensation only for such pecuniary loss suffered by him as he has duly proved. Such compensation is referred to as actual or compensatory damages.” 

Thus, in addition to specific provisions of law allowing actual or compensatory damages in certain situations, the Civil Code elaborates that the proper setting for allowance of actual or compensatory damages occurs in breaches of obligations, i.e., in cases of contracts and quasi-contracts, and in crimes and quasi-delicts, where the defendant may be held liable for all damages which are the natural and probable consequences of the act or omission complained of. Given this setting, it would appear virtually impossible for a party in an election protest case to recover actual or compensatory damages in the absence of the conditions specified under Articles 2201 and 2202 of the Civil Code, or in the absence of a law expressly providing for situations allowing for the recovery of the same. It follows, naturally, that in most election protest cases where the monetary claim does not hinge on either a contract or quasi-contract or a tortious act or omission, the claimant must be able to point out to a specific provision of law authorizing a money claim for election protest expenses against the losing party. This, petitioner has been unable to do. 

Section 259 of the Omnibus Election Code merely provides for the granting of actual and compensatory damages in accordance with law. That it was the intent of the legislature to do away with provisions indemnifying the victorious party for expenses incurred in an election contest in the absence of a wrongful act or omission clearly attributable to the losing party cannot be gainsaid. The intent, moreover, to do away with such provisions merely recognizes the maxim, settled in law that a wrong without damage or damage without wrong neither constitutes a cause of action nor creates a civil obligation.

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