Is the SC turning the Charter on its head?




The Manila Times


WE know the law to be what the Supreme Court says it is, but is the high tribunal turning the Constitution on its head? Why even bother the highest court of the land and upset its judicial schedule just to tell us what is plain in the language of the law? Sometimes, the Supreme Court would go to great lengths to enunciate its decisions. However, in doing so, it promotes confusion instead of clarity, inconsistency instead of cohesion in the judicial principles it lays down. Worth a look are some of the electoral cases brought before it. On March 2, 2021, the Supreme Court, voting 8-6, allowed Camarines Norte Gov. Edgardo Tallado to run for — get this — a fourth consecutive term. This split decision permitted a local official to serve his uninterrupted fourth term just because he received several suspensions and dismissal from office for violation of laws. Section 8, Article X of the Constitution says that no locally elected leader, save for barangay officials, can serve for more than three consecutive terms. Did not the high tribunal’s unprecedented decision, in effect, skirt the constitutional prohibition? Did it not appear to be gifting a public official after he committed several violations and abuses using the very same office he now holds for a fourth term? Thus, the decision to allow someone to hold an elective position for a fourth term on the “qualification” that he was dismissed, suspended or disciplined, creates a dangerous effect on unscrupulous politicians who desperately want to hold on to office. Now, they can simply devise a scheme that would subject them to preventive or final suspension on their third term. This way, they can run again unimpeded. To be honest, this decision is plainly wrong. It awards a politician who violated the law using his position. It deserves a second look by the Supreme Court. These and other related cases demand a closer review and scrutiny of judicial action on electoral cases. Winners of the general elections last May 9 have been in office for almost 100 days, but for some local contests the electoral battle is far from over. No thanks to the back-and-forth routine between the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) involving cases of nuisance candidates. The issue seems to boil down to which agency holds exclusive power to declare a seeker of elective public office a “nuisance candidate.” The Comelec asserts it solely holds this authority, but the high court insists on its constitutional power to decide as final arbiter. The problem is disrupting governance and causing tensions in local jurisdictions/communities. Consider the following cases: A special board of canvassers proclaimed a candidate as the duly elected governor of a Visayan province at the Comelec central office in Manila on Monday after the votes of a nuisance candidate were transferred and counted in his favor. The proclamation booted out the previously proclaimed winner. After the final recount, the candidate got 331,726 votes, including those transferred from another with the same last name, while another bet had 301,319. The reelectionist governor got 281,773 votes in the May 9 polls. On September 27, the Comelec en banc ruled that another candidate for governor whose identical last name appeared on the official ballot was a nuisance bet. The Comelec also annulled the proclamation of the candidate previously hailed as the winner. A certificate of canvass of votes and proclamation of winning candidate were handed over to the new winner. Over the weekend, the unseated official said in a radio program he would step down if the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Supreme Court would ask him to do so. His only request was for them to review the merits of the case. The high tribunal on Wednesday also issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Comelec in favor of a candidate who won in May as mayor of a town in an Ilocos province but was disqualified by the election body. The TRO also directed the Comelec to annul the proclamation of the female candidate declared as mayor on Tuesday afternoon. The Comelec earlier canceled her certificate of candidacy over residency issues. The tribunal also ordered the Comelec to submit its comment to the court within a non-extendable period of 10 days from notice. The lady mayoral candidate had received 21,364 votes against her rival’s 16,603 votes. A Comelec spokesperson told reporters that she was proclaimed mayor on Tuesday at the Comelec’s office in Manila before the clerk of the commission had received any notice or order of the TRO. Earlier, the Supreme Court also nullified a Comelec ruling that canceled a senatorial hopeful’s certificate of candidacy in the May 9 elections for being a nuisance. It reminded the Comelec that “bona fide intent” to run as a candidate “cannot be negated by unsubstantial claims that he (a candidate) is an unknown, or that he lacks the capacity to mount a nationwide campaign” and that “neither is his (a candidate’s) nonmembership in a political party sufficient to declare him a nuisance candidate.” Although now moot, the 20page decision was another victory for the candidate who had been declared a nuisance by the poll body in December 2021. The candidate, who said he was an animal welfare advocate, won a similar case against the agency in 2019. “Declaring one a nuisance candidate simply because he or she is not known to the entire country reduces the electoral process — a sacred instrument of democracy — to a mere popularity contest. The matter of the candidate being known (or unknown) should not be taken against the candidate but is best left to the electorate,” the Supreme Court added. The Comelec law department had ruled that the candidate filed his certificate of candidacy to put the election process in mockery or disrepute. It also said he had no bona fide intention to run, was virtually not known to the entire country, had not been nominated by any political party and did not appear to be personally capable of persuading a substantial number of voters. The poll body said allowing nuisance candidates to run would further complicate the election process and added that “even without considering financial capacity, the candidate’s circumstances “show that he has no capabilities to run a viable campaign.” Citing its earlier ruling in a similar case filed by the same bet in 2019, the high court said the Comelec “cannot conflate the bona fide intention to run [of a candidate] with a financial capacity requirement” and that the Comelec’s property requirement standards for candidates “fall short of what is constitutionally permissible.” The court said the grounds for the disqualification in the latest case that the candidate had filed “are in truth shrouded property qualifications employed by the Comelec to disqualify an otherwise qualified candidate.” No law makes it a requirement for persons to be members of a political party before being allowed to run as candidates, the high tribunal said. The animal rights campaigner was first declared a nuisance candidate for the May 2019 polls because he was “virtually unknown to the entire country” and had “absent clear proof of financial capability.” In a Sept. 3, 2019 decision, the Supreme Court found the Comelec “committed grave abuse of discretion” on the same grounds as the recent ruling. So, whose side should actually prevail?