The rule in elections, as people know it, is that an appointed official is deemed automatically resigned from their positions once he/she files the Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) for any elective position. This rule on automatic resignation does not apply to elected officials. The Supreme Court initially struck down the assailed provisions for being unconstitutional (Eleazar Quinto vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 189698, 1 December 2009), but the decision was subsequently reconsidered and reversed, in the Supreme Court’s Resolution dated 22 February 2010.
BACKGROUND OF THE CASE
In preparation for the 2010 elections, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) issued Resolution No. 8678 – the Guidelines on the Filing of Certificates of Candidacy (CoC) and Nomination of Official Candidates of Registered Political Parties in Connection with the May 10, 2010 National and Local Elections. Section 4 of Resolution No. 8678 provide:
SEC. 4. Effects of Filing Certificates of Candidacy.—a) Any person holding a public appointive office or position including active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and other officers and employees in government-owned or controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso facto resigned from his office upon the filing of his certificate of candidacy.
b) Any person holding an elective office or position shall not be considered resigned upon the filing of his certificate of candidacy for the same or any other elective office or position.
Two appointive officers of the government who were planning to run in the 2010 elections sought the nullification of Section 4(a) on the ground, among others, that it is discriminatory and violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.
Section 4(a) of Resolution No. 8678 is a reproduction of the second proviso in the third paragraph of Section 13 of Republic Act (“R.A.”) No. 9369, which reads:
For this purpose, the Commission shall set the deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy/petition for registration/manifestation to participate in the election. Any person who files his certificate of candidacy within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy: Provided, That, unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the aforesaid campaign period: Provided, finally, That any person holding a public appointive office or position, including active members of the armed forces, and officers and employees in government-owned or -controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso facto resigned from his/her office and must vacate the same at the start of the day of the filing of his/her certificate of candidacy.
The proviso, on the other hand, was lifted from Section 66 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, or the Omnibus Election Code, which reads:
Sec. 66. Candidates holding appointive office or position.—Any person holding a public appointive office or position, including active members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and officers and employees in government-owned or controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso facto resigned from his office upon the filing of his certificate of candidacy.
RULING OF THE SUPREME COURT
According to the majority, with Justice Nachura as the ponencia, Section 4 (a) of the Resolution is null and void for being violative of the equal protection clause and for being overbroad. The second proviso in the third paragraph of Section 13 of R.A. 9369, and Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code were also declared as UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
CHALLENGED PROVISION DISCRIMINATORY
There used to be a similar provision in the Election Code and R.A. 8436 relating to the automatic resignation of elective officials upon the filing of their CoCs, but this was repealed by R.A. 9006, also known as the Fair Election Act. “There was, thus, created a situation of obvious discrimination against appointive officials who were deemed ipso facto resigned from their offices upon the filing of their CoCs, while elective officials were not.”
Four (4) requisites of valid classification must be complied with in order that a discriminatory governmental act may pass the constitutional norm of equal protection:
- (1) It must be based upon substantial distinctions;
- (2) It must be germane to the purposes of the law;
- (3) It must not be limited to existing conditions only; and
- (4) It must apply equally to all members of the class.
The first requirement means that there must be real and substantial differences between the classes treated differently. Nevertheless, the classification would still be invalid if it does not comply with the second requirement—if it is not germane to the purpose of the law. The third requirement means that the classification must be enforced not only for the present but as long as the problem sought to be corrected continues to exist. And, under the last requirement, the classification would be regarded as invalid if all the members of the class are not treated similarly, both as to rights conferred and obligations imposed.
According to the Supreme Court, the differential treatment of persons holding appointive offices as opposed to those holding elective ones is not germane to the purposes of the law.
The obvious reason for the challenged provision is to prevent the use of a governmental position to promote one’s candidacy, or even to wield a dangerous or coercive influence on the electorate. The measure is further aimed at promoting the efficiency, integrity, and discipline of the public service by eliminating the danger that the discharge of official duty would be motivated by political considerations rather than the welfare of the public. The restriction is also justified by the proposition that the entry of civil servants to the electoral arena, while still in office, could result in neglect or inefficiency in the performance of duty because they would be attending to their campaign rather than to their office work.
If we accept these as the underlying objectives of the law, then the assailed provision cannot be constitutionally rescued on the ground of valid classification. Glaringly absent is the requisite that the classification must be germane to the purposes of the law. Indeed, whether one holds an appointive office or an elective one, the evils sought to be prevented by the measure remain. For example, the Executive Secretary, or any Member of the Cabinet for that matter, could wield the same influence as the Vice-President who at the same time is appointed to a Cabinet post (in the recent past, elected Vice-Presidents were appointed to take charge of national housing, social welfare development, interior and local government, and foreign affairs). With the fact that they both head executive offices, there is no valid justification to treat them differently when both file their CoCs for the elections. Under the present state of our law, the Vice-President, in the example, running this time, let us say, for President, retains his position during the entire election period and can still use the resources of his office to support his campaign.
As to the danger of neglect, inefficiency or partisanship in the discharge of the functions of his appointive office, the inverse could be just as true and compelling. The public officer who files his certificate of candidacy would be driven by a greater impetus for excellent performance to show his fitness for the position aspired for.
In considering persons holding appointive positions as ipso facto resigned from their posts upon the filing of their CoCs, but not considering as resigned all other civil servants, specifically the elective ones, the law unduly discriminates against the first class. The fact alone that there is substantial distinction between those who hold appointive positions and those occupying elective posts, does not justify such differential treatment. The classification simply fails to meet the test that it should be germane to the purposes of the law.
CHALLENGED PROVISION OVERBROAD
First, the provision pertains to all civil servants holding appointive posts without distinction as to whether they occupy high positions in government or not. Certainly, a utility worker in the government will also be considered as ipso facto resigned once he files his CoC for the 2010 elections. This scenario is absurd for, indeed, it is unimaginable how he can use his position in the government to wield influence in the political world.
While it may be admitted that most appointive officials who seek public elective office are those who occupy relatively high positions in government, laws cannot be legislated for them alone, or with them alone in mind. For the right to seek public elective office is universal, open and unrestrained, subject only to the qualification standards prescribed in the Constitution and in the laws. These qualifications are, as we all know, general and basic so as to allow the widest participation of the citizenry and to give free rein for the pursuit of one’s highest aspirations to public office. Such is the essence of democracy.
Second, the provision is directed to the activity of seeking any and all public offices, whether they be partisan or nonpartisan in character, whether they be in the national, municipal or barangay level. Congress has not shown a compelling state interest to restrict the fundamental right involved on such a sweeping scale.
Specific evils require specific treatments, not through overly broad measures that unduly restrict guaranteed freedoms of the citizenry. After all, sovereignty resides in the people, and all governmental power emanates from them.
RECONSIDERED AND REVERSED
Acting on the Motion for Reconsideration filed by COMELEC and the intervenors, the Supreme Court en banc, though Justice Puno, in its Resolution dated 22 February 2010, reconsidered and reversed its 1 December 2009 Decision. In other words, the deemed-resigned provision applicable to appointive officials remain valid.
The intention to impose a strict limitation on the participation of civil service officers and employees in partisan political campaigns is unmistakable. However, the constitutional ban does not cover elected officials. This is because elected public officials, by the very nature of their office, engage in partisan political activities almost all year round, even outside of the campaign period. Political partisanship is the inevitable essence of a political office, elective positions included.
The Supreme Court concluded that the challenged provisions are not overbroad and are not violative of the Equal Protection Clause.
As Section 14 of the Fair Election Act repealed Section 67 (i.e., the deemed-resigned provision in respect of elected officials) of the Omnibus Election Code, elected officials are no longer considered ipso facto resigned from their respective offices upon their filing of certificates of candidacy. In contrast, since Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code was not repealed, the limitation on appointive officials continues to be operative they are deemed resigned when they file their certificates of candidacy.
The deemed-resigned provisions substantially serve governmental interests (i.e., (i) efficient civil service faithful to the government and the people rather than to party; (ii) avoidance of the appearance of political justice as to policy; (iii) avoidance of the danger of a powerful political machine; and (iv) ensuring that employees achieve advancement on their merits and that they be free from both coercion and the prospect of favor from political activity). These are interests that are important enough to outweigh the non-fundamental right of appointive officials and employees to seek elective office.
- Extension of Filing Periods and Suspension of Hearings for March 29 to April 4, 2021: SC Administrative Circular No. 14-2021 (Full Text) - March 28, 2021
- ECQ Bubble for NCR, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal: Resolution No. 106-A (Full Text) - March 27, 2021
- Guidelines on the Administration of COVID-19 Vaccines in the Workplaces (Labor Advisory No. 3) - March 12, 2021