Supreme Court of the Philippines

SC: Being ‘unpopular’ not enough to be declared as nuisance candidate

Rappler.com
SC: Being ‘unpopular’ not enough to be declared as nuisance candidate

NORMAN MARQUEZ. Norman Marquez speaks after filing his certificate of candidacy for senator at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza on October 1, 2022.

Screenshot from Comelec feed

For the second time, the Supreme Court rules in favor of animal welfare advocate Norman Marquez, who fought back when the Comelec declared him a nuisance candidate in the 2019 and 2022 elections

MANILA, Philippines – Unpopularity and not being a member of a political party are not sufficient grounds to declare one a nuisance candidate in Philippine elections, the Supreme Court (SC) ruled.

In a 20-page decision announced by the SC Public Information Office in a media release on Saturday, September 10, the high court ruled in favor of Norman Cordero Marquez, the co-founder of animal advocacy group Baguio Animal Welfare who sought to run for senator in the 2022 elections, but was declared a nuisance candidate by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

After Marquez filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) on October 1, 2021, the Comelec Law Department filed a petition to declare him a nuisance candidate, finding him without a bona fide intention to run for a national position because he was “virtually unknown to the entire country,” and lacked support from a political party.

This wasn’t the first time Marquez fought back against being declared a nuisance candidate. In the 2019 elections, he was also declared a nuisance candidate as he tried to run for senator. He filed a case known as Marquez v. Comelec, where the SC sided with him.

In this decision, the SC nullified the Comelec’s declaration of him as a nuisance candidate, saying the Comelec cannot conflate bona fide intention to run with a financial capacity requirement.

Marquez invoked this 2019 SC decision as he was rejected anew. But in December 2021, the Comelec’s First Division ruled against Marquez and declared him a nuisance candidate. The division held that Marquez had the burden to prove that he was not a nuisance candidate, and that he failed to show that he is “known well enough nationwide.”

The First Division said the grounds for Marquez’s nuisance status are different in the 2019 and 2021 cases, hence the 2019 ruling was not applicable and could not be invoked.

The Comelec en banc affirmed this on January 3, 2022, when it denied Marquez’s motion for reconsideration. This prompted Marquez to raise it to the Supreme Court.

Marquez also sought a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the Comelec, which the SC granted on January 19, 2022. However, the Comelec proceeded to print official ballots that did not include his name.

Marquez’s prayer to be included in the official ballot became moot with the conclusion of the 2022 elections, and the proclamation of the senators-elect. However, “the Supreme Court found it necessary to resolve the matter since the same situation may recur in future elections,” it said in a media release.

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Arguments on serious intention to run

The SC said that the Comelec committed an error when it shifted the burden on Marquez to prove that he is not a nuisance candidate. This burden is supposed to be with the Comelec Law Department, which alleged that Marquez did not have a bona fide intention to run.

The Cout also considered several indicators of Marquez’s serious intent to run. These were the SC’s indicators verbatim:

  • His COC is a sworn document declaring his candidacy;
  • This is not the first time he filed a COC;
  • He has a Program of Governance in the event he wins;
  • He exercised utmost vigilance in the protection of his candidacy;
  • After he was declared a nuisance candidate in the 2019 elections, he availed of judicial remedies to assert his right, and prevailed before the Court; and
  • After his 2022 elections COC was canceled again by the Comelec, he raised the matter before this Court to protect his interest.

The Court noted that it is “contrary to human experience that a candidate would go through such a rigorous process, not once, but twice, if he or she has actually no intent to run.”

By regarding Marquez’s lack of a political affiliation as an inability to conduct an election campaign, and equating this to a lack of a serious intention to run, the Comelec effectively imposed property qualifications on aspirants, which the SC had already proscribed or forbade in a previous case.

The SC stressed that, if a candidate can demonstrate seriousness in running for office, then he or she is considered to have a bona fide intention to run. There is no law or election rule that imposes membership in a political party as a requirement for people intending to run for public office, according to the Court.

Unpopularity is also not a ground for declaration of nuisance candidate under Section 69 of the Omnibus Election Code, the SC pointed out. The Court held that the Comelec erred when it invoked Marquez being virtually unknown nationwide as a ground to exclude him as a candidate.

“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 Court said.

While nuisance candidates are an “evil to be remedied,” this does not justify the adoption of measures which would bar seemingly unpopular candidates from running in the elections, it added.

The SC also reminded the Comelec that any measure designed to weed out nuisance candidates should “not be arbitrary and oppressive, and should not contravene the Republican system ordained in our Constitution.”

However, the SC denied Marquez’s bid to punish the Comelec for contempt, as the election body did not intend to disrespect the Court’s authority when it proceeded to conduct the 2022 elections despite the TRO the SC earlier granted. The Comelec only sought to ensure that the 2022 elections would push through on the second Monday of May, which is mandated by the Constitution.

The SC still urged the Comelec to adopt a plan or timeline that would ensure that all cases that may result in the inclusion or exclusion of a candidate from official ballots are resolved at the earliest possible time.

The Comelec should also consider that the aggrieved party will likely contest actions affecting their candidacies, which may affect the timeline for necessary election preparations.

Nuisance candidates are common occurrences in every Philippine election. The first case filed against then-aspirant and now President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. when he ran was an appeal to declare him a nuisance candidate, but it was junked by the Comelec. – Michelle Abad/Rappler.com

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