Case Digest: Bulilis v. Nuez, et al.

G.R. No.195953 : August 9, 2011

CERIACO BULILIS, Petitioner, v. VICTORINO NUEZ, Hon. PRESIDING JUDGE, 6th MCTC, Ubay, Bohol, Hon. Presiding Judge, RTC, Branch 52, Talibon, Bohol, Respondents.



On October 25, 2010, petitioner Ceriaco Bulilis was proclaimed winner of the elections for punong barangay of Barangay Bulilis, Ubay, Bohol. He won over Victorino Nuez by a margin of 4 votes. On November 2, 2010,Nuez filed an Election Protest. It was inexplicably docketed as Civil Case No. 134-10.

Bulilis denied the allegations in the protest and praying for its dismissal on the ground that the MCTC had no jurisdiction since the protest failed to implead the Chairman and the Members of the Board of Election Inspectors who were purportedly indispensable parties. On the same date, the Clerk of Court of the MCTC issued a notice of "hearing" for November 9, 2010. However, counsel for Bulilis claimed that he never received said "notice" nor was he in any way informed that the November 9, 2010 hearing was a preliminary conference. At about 1:45 p.m., on November 9, 2010, counsel for Bulilis filed his Preliminary Conference Brief with the Clerk of Court and also furnished Nuez counsel with a copy. However, when the case was called at 2:10 p.m., counsel for Nuez moved in open court to be allowed to present evidence ex parte. Noting that counsel for Bulilis failed to file his brief and to furnish a copy of the brief on the other party at least one (1) day prior to the preliminary conference as required by Section 4, Rule 9 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC, Judge Daniel Jose J. Garces granted Nuez motion to present evidence ex parte.

Counsel for Bulilis filed a motion for reconsideration on November 10, 2010, asserting the lack of proper notice to him of the preliminary conference. The MCTC denied the motion. The RTC likewise denied Bulilis subsequent petition and motion for reconsideration. Hence, this petition.

ISSUE: Whether or not the RTC committed no grave abuse of discretion in dismissing the petition for lack of jurisdiction?

HELD: The order of the RTC is upheld.

It appears from the record that the questioned notice of preliminary conference issued in the instant election protest may have been defective in that (1) the notice issued by the MCTC clerk of court was a generic notice of hearing without any mention that it was for preliminary conference, and (2) it was served on the party himself despite being represented by counsel in contravention of Rule 9, Section 2 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC. For this reason the Court disagrees with the RTC finding that impliedly ascribed all fault to petitioner in failing to timely file his preliminary conference brief. We, nonetheless, finds that the RTC and even the Court itself have no jurisdiction to correct any error that may have been committed by MCTC Judge Garces in his order to allow the protestant to present evidence ex parte.

Petitioner contends that the petition for certiorari that he filed with the RTC was "not an election case", but one imputing grave abuse of discretion on the part of the MCTC judge in his issuance of an interlocutory order. He further claims that the COMELEC appellate jurisdiction is only limited to "decided barangay election cases."

There is no merit in petitioner argument that Rule 28, Section 1 of the COMELEC Rules of Procedure limits the COMELEC's jurisdiction over petitions for certiorari in election cases to issues related to elections, returns and qualifications of elective municipal and barangay officials. Said provision, taken together with the succeeding section, undeniably shows that an aggrieved party may file a petition for certiorari with the COMELEC whenever a judge hearing an election case has acted without or in excess of his jurisdiction or with grave abuse of discretion and there is no appeal, nor any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law.

This Court also recognizes the COMELEC appellate jurisdiction over petitions for certiorari against all acts or omissions of courts in election cases. Indeed, in the recent case of Galang v. Geronimo,the Court had the opportunity to rule that a petition for certiorari questioning an interlocutory order of a trial court in an electoral protest was within the appellate jurisdiction of the COMELEC. To quote the relevant portion of that decision:

The question then is, would taking cognizance of a petition for certiorari questioning an interlocutory order of the regional trial court in an electoral protest case be considered in aid of the appellate jurisdiction of the COMELEC? The Court finds in the affirmative.

Interpreting the phrase "in aid of its appellate jurisdiction," the Court held in J.M. Tuason & Co., Inc. v. Jaramillo, et al. that if a case may be appealed to a particular court or judicial tribunal or body, then said court or judicial tribunal or body has jurisdiction to issue the extraordinary writ of certiorari, in aid of its appellate jurisdiction. This was reiterated in De Jesus v. Court of Appeals, where the Court stated that a court may issue a writ of certiorari in aid of its appellate jurisdiction if said court has jurisdiction to review, by appeal or writ of error, the final orders or decisions of the lower court.

Note that Section 8, Rule 14 of the 2010 Rules of Procedure in Election Contests Before the Courts Involving Elective Municipal Officials states that:

Sec. 8. Appeal. An aggrieved party may appeal the decision to the COMELEC within five (5) days after promulgation, by filing a notice of appeal with the court that rendered the decision, with copy served on the adverse counsel or on the adverse party who is not represented by counsel.

Since it is the COMELEC which has jurisdiction to take cognizance of an appeal from the decision of the regional trial court in election contests involving elective municipal officials, then it is also the COMELEC which has jurisdiction to issue a writ of certiorari in aid of its appellate jurisdiction. Clearly, petitioner erred in invoking this Court's power to issue said extraordinary writ. (Emphasis supplied.)

Although Galang involved a petition for certiorari involving an interlocutory order of a regional trial court in a municipal election contest, the rationale for the above ruling applies to an interlocutory order issued by a municipal trial court in a barangay election case. Under Rule 14, Section 8 of A.M. No. 07-4-15-SC, decisions of municipal trial courts in election contests involving barangay officials are appealed to the COMELEC. Following the Galang doctrine, it is the COMELEC which has jurisdiction over petitions for certiorari involving acts of the municipal trial courts in such election contests.