• Actual damages in elections

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    benchpress
    The victorious party in an election case cannot be indemnified for actual damages and expenses incurred in an electoral contest in the absence of a wrongful act or omission or breach of obligation clearly attributable to the losing party.

    Two candidates ran against each other for the position of mayor in Kidapawan, North Cotabato, in the 1992 local elections. Candidate #1 was proclaimed the duly elected mayor garnering 10,498 votes, winning a margin of 706 votes against Candidate #2. After the elections, Candidate #2 filed an election protest before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) contesting 64 out of the 181 precincts of the municipality. The RTC declared Candidate #2 the proper mayor of Kida­pawan, North Cotabato, and found Candidate #1 liable for Canididate #2’s protest expenses, moral and exemplary damages, and attorney’s fees. Candidate #2 immediately assumed office as mayor.

    On appeal, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) reversed and ordered Candidate #2 to vacate the office. Since the election protest was clearly unfounded, it found Candidate #2 liable to pay Candidate #1 for the attorney’s fees, expenses for litigation, and unearned salary for the period the candidate was not in office as actual damages based on Article 2208 of the Civil Code. COMELEC en banc affirmed the decision.

    The Supreme Court (SC) overturned the findings of the COMELEC, stating there was no
    reason to make Candidate #1 liable for actual damages.

    “Section 259 of the Omnibus Election Code only provides for the granting in election cases of actual and compensatory damages in accordance with law… Articles 2201 and 2202 of the Civil Code provides that actual or compensatory damages are appropriate only in breaches of obligations in cases of contracts and quasi-contracts and on the occasion of crimes and quasi-delicts, the monetary claim of a party in an election case must necessarily be hinged on either a contract or a quasi-contract or a tortious act or omission or a crime, in order to effectively recover actual or compensatory damages. In the absence of any or all of these, “the claimant must be able to point out a specific provision of law authorizing a money claim for election protest expenses against the losing party x x x x
    We have painstakingly gone over the records of this case and we can attribute to petitioner no breach of contract or quasi-contract; or tortious act nor crime that may make him liable for actual damages. Neither has private respondent been “able to point out to a specific provision of law authorizing a money claim for election protest expenses against the losing party.”

    Moreover, the SC ruled that the COMELEC’s only basis for granting actual damages to Candidate #2 was that the election protest filed with the RTC was clearly unfounded.
    Lastly, the SC held that if any damage had been suffered by Candidate #2 because he did not serve as mayor despite being the proper winner of the electoral race, the damage suffered is merely “damage without injury, or damage or injury inflicted without injustice, or loss or damage without violation of a legal right, or a wrong done to a man for which the law provides no remedy” (Malaluan v. Comelec, G.R. No. 120193, 6 March 1996, J. Hermosisima, Jr.).

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