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Supreme Court: Unknown, unaffiliated bets are not nuisance candidates

The Supreme Court on Saturday ruled that “unpopularity and non-membership” in a political party are not sufficient grounds to declare an elective office aspirant a nuisance candidate.

The High Court’s decision stemmed from a petition filed by Norman Cordero Marquez assailing a Commission on Elections (Comelec) resolution declaring Marquez a nuisance candidate and canceling his certificate of candidacy (COC) for senator in the recent May 2022 polls.

The Comelec Law Department subsequently filed a petition to declare Marquez a nuisance candidate, after finding him without bona fide intentions to run for a national position saying that he was “virtually unknown to the entire country” and lacked “the support of a political party.”

While Marquez’s case has been mooted by the conclusion of the May 2022 elections, the High Court said it found it necessary to resolve the matter since the same situation may recur in future elections.

In a 20-page decision penned by Justice Amy C. Lazaro-Javier, the SC found that the poll body committed several errors such as shifting “the burden on Marquez to prove that he is not a nuisance candidate, a burden supposed to be borne by the COMELEC Law Department which made the allegation that Marquez did not possess bona fide intention to run for senator.”

Furthermore, the High Court said the Comelec Law Department failed to substantiate its claims.

The SC said it also considered several indicators, including Marquez’s serious intent to run:

  • 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 further stressed that a candidate is considered to have bona fide intent to run when he or she can demonstrate seriousness in running for office. Neither the law nor the election rules impose membership in a political party as a requirement on persons intending to run for public office, held the Court,” it stated.

“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,” it added.

The High Court also reminded the poll body 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.”

“The Court nevertheless urged the Comelec to adopt a practicable plan or timeline to ensure that all cases which may result in the inclusion or exclusion of a candidate from the ballot are resolved at the earliest possible time, bearing in mind that Comelec dispositions are subject to review by the Supreme Court which also needs ample time to resolve such cases prior to election day,” the SC said.

“The Comelec should further consider that the aggrieved party will likely seek injunctive relief from the Court which might affect the timeline for necessary election preparations,” it added. — DVM, GMA News