G.R. No. 179813 – Political Law – Due Process – Administrative Bodies – HRET – Service of Summons
Datu Pax and Montilla were rivals in the Congressional elections in 2007. Datu Pax won the elections. Montilla contested the results of the elections before the HRET. The Secretary of HRET the issued the summons to Datu Pax to his quite remote residence in Sultan Kudarat. Datu Pax was required to file a reply within ten days from receipt. The summons was received by a certain Aileen Baldenas. 43 days past and no answer was received from Datu Pax as he was unaware of the summons. HRET then considered such inaction as a general denial to the protest. Datu Pax later learned about the protest against him and he coordinated with his lawyers to appear on behalf of him and to present the answer as well as to file counter protest. He alleged that he does not know of a Baldenas nor was she a part of the household. HRET denied his motion and had proceeded to the recount as prayed for by Montilla.
ISSUE: Whether or not Datu Pax was denied due process by reason that he did not receive the summons personally.
HELD: The SC ruled in favor of Datu Pax. The summons to Datu Pax should not have been delivered via registered mail as the same is susceptible to fraud. The HRET should have made use of its own servers to make sure that the summons is personally received by Datu Pax. The 1997 Rules of Civil Procedure (which is in one way or the other adopted by the 2004 HRET rules on summons) provides that:
SEC. 6. Service in person on defendant. – Whenever practicable, the summons shall be served handling a copy thereof to the defendant in person, or, if he refuses to receive and sign for it, by tendering it to him.
SEC. 7. Substituted service. – If, for justifiable causes, the defendant cannot be served within a reasonable time as provided in the preceding section, service may be effected (a) by leaving copies of the summons at the defendant’s residence with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein, or (b) by leaving copies at defendant’s office or regular place of business with some competent person in charge thereof.
Indeed, if in ordinary civil cases (which involve only private and proprietary interests) personal service of summons is preferred and service by registered mail is not allowed on jurisdictional and due process grounds, with more reason should election cases (which involve public interest and the will of the electorate) strictly follow the hierarchy of modes of service of summons under the Rules of Court.