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Inquirer.net : Oust nuisance bets speedily

News & Interviews
24 October 2021

By Artemio V. Panganiban | Inquirer.net

In Villamor v. Comelec (Oct. 5, 2021), the Supreme Court reminded the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that “[b]y their very nature and given the public interest involved, election cases must be resolved speedily…”

With this reminder, the Comelec should speedily deny due course, after summary due process, the certificates of candidacy (COCs) of nuisance candidates whose only purpose is to reserve the position for more “winnable” substitutes.

Once their COCs are declared null and void for mocking the electoral process, nuisance bets cannot be substituted. Since their names would no longer be included in the automated ballots, the substitutes cannot be voted into office.

The Court’s decision buttresses the stand of former Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento (also a former member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission and former chair of PPCRV) that “the process of ousting nuisance candidates need not be time-consuming.”

In fact, in his letter addressed to me printed by the Inquirer on Oct. 18, Sarmiento wrote that the Comelec “may, on its own initiative, without waiting for a verified petition of an interested party, cancel the (COC) of a nuisance candidate… This had been done by the Comelec in the past.”

I think the speedy cancellation of the COCs of nuisance bets should suffice for now but, moving forward, the long-term solution, per my column on Oct. 10, is to abolish substitution for any reason except the death of a candidate. Moreover, the non-extendible deadline for filing COCs should be fixed at a much later date than Oct. 8.

Sarmiento also batted for the reformation of the party-list system, a subject close to my heart. He said that my “ponencia in the landmark case of Ang Bagong Bayani v. Comelec (June 26, 2001)” which held that party-list groups and their nominees must belong to the marginalized and underrepresented “is faithful to the intent of the framers of the 1987 Constitution compared to the ponencia in Atong Paglaum” v. Comelec (April 2, 2013) that bastardized the system by opening it to everyone including the ultra-rich, the overrepresented, the dynasties, and the powerful. To solve this conundrum, he asked Congress to amend the Party-list Law to bring it back to the original intent of the framers.

I thank commissioner Sarmiento for his support, but Ang Bagong Bayani v. Comelec itself and Veterans Party v. Comelec (Oct. 6, 2000)—both of which I wrote for the Court—already pointed to the textual ambiguities of the Constitution, and already pleaded with Congress to revise the Party-list Law by stressing this noble intent clearly. Various bills have accordingly been filed but none has been passed because the non-marginalized party-list representatives (who constituted a formidable bloc) opposed them.

Even President Duterte wanted the Constitution amended to abolish the party-list because it merely duplicated the work of the district representatives at an enormous cost to the taxpayers. The House had to increase its budget by 20 percent to fund the 61 party-list solons, aside from increasing by 20 percent also the “pork-like” insertions denounced by Sen. Ping Lacson.

Instead of heeding the President, Senate President (SP) Tito Sotto filed a bill empowering the Comelec to refuse or cancel the registration of a party-list for “its failure to represent the marginalized and underrepresented… the failure of the majority of its members to belong [to] the marginalized and underrepresented… ceasing to be a marginalized or underrepresented sector… material misrepresentation of its nominees’ qualifications.”

Unfortunately, the President’s proposal and the SP’s bill have not moved. I think that Congress, whether acting as a lawmaking body or as a constituent assembly, cannot be relied upon to reform the party-list. Only an independent constitutional convention can do it.

Nonetheless, the coming elections provide a new opportunity to reform the system by making it an issue against those who bastardized it—against the ultra-rich, the dynasties, the overrepresented, and the powerful.

Romulo Macalintal proffered another solution: Ask the Court to reverse its decisions that opened the party-list to “every Juan” and that compelled the election of 20 percent of the House with party-listers. I replied that he, as a seasoned election lawyer, could initiate the solution. In a phone call, former senator Alberto G. Romulo said he joins me in asking Macalintal to file the necessary petitions that complies with the requisites of justiciability.