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Sunday, June 26, 2022

When did Bongbong’s candidacy end?

ALL laws governing elections have this common element: a candidate is one who has been qualified by the Commission on Elections to run for the position he has filed a certificate of candidacy for. Only until such time as the actual election is held does this status — as a candidate — continue, for the moment he gets voted or rejected by the electorate, he ceases to be a candidate, no longer running but emerges either winner or loser.

The issue surfaces on account of a petition for certiorari filed last Monday afternoon before the Supreme Court by alleged victims of martial law seeking the issuance of a TRO “enjoining the Senate of the Philippines and the House of Representatives from canvassing the votes for Ferdinand Romualdez Marcos Jr. and proclaiming him, should he be adjudged to be the one with the highest number of votes obtained, as president, pending resolution of this petition.” As in every case of TRO, the petitioners also asked the Supreme Court to make permanent such TRO, enjoining and restraining Congress from canvassing the votes cast for Marcos for the position of president.

Named respondents in the petition are the Commission on Elections (Comelec); Bongbong; the Senate, represented by the senate president; and the House of Representatives, represented by its speaker.

It will be recalled that on Jan. 17, 2022, the Comelec Second Division issued a resolution dismissing the disqualification case filed by the petitioners against Bongbong for being without merit. At that time, the disqualification case was beyond question, the election not having taken place yet. On May 10, 2022, despite the election having been over, the Comelec en banc still saw fit to rule on the motion for reconsideration by the petitioners and upheld the Second Division decision which denied the petitioned cancellation of Bongbong’s certificate of candidacy. The en banc decision certainly had a way of putting to rest the entire disqualification case against Bongbong. Alas, but that’s only as far as the Comelec is concerned. By law, the Comelec decision is subject to final ruling by the Supreme Court. It is this legal provision which the TRO petitioners have seized upon to still pursue what otherwise had already been a lost fight.

The petitioners, led by Fr. Christian Buenafe, co-chairman of Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, contended that “[e]lections are more than a numbers game. The will of the people expressed through the ballot cannot cure the vice of ineligibility. The balance must always tilt in favor of upholding and enforcing the law.” They also asked that the court cancel and declare void ab initio (void from the beginning) Marcos’ candidacy certificate for president that he filed last October, and to declare that he has never been a candidate in the 2022 national elections.

To be sure, the petitioners’ view is quite dangerous and deserves a thorough rebuttal, although not in the limited space of this column. It needs some lengthy dissertation to expose the utterly undemocratic argument that “the will of the people expressed through the ballot cannot cure the vice of ineligibility.” What “vice of ineligibility” can ever supervene over the supreme democratic principle of vox populi?

We’ll tackle the issue later. Suffice it for now to raise just one question for the court to settle: “Can the court disqualify someone who is no longer a candidate?”

The very first act of the very first voter in the May 9 elections perforce erased in one fell swoop the candidacy status of all those running in the elections. And there just isn’t any law which provides for any mode of retrieval of such status by any of the candidates once the voting begins.

Bongbong, like anyone else among the candidates in those elections, in one fell swoop had been transformed from being a candidate to somebody already vested by law to be voted upon and never to be deprived of the votes so cast for him.

What candidacy are we then talking about when we move for the disqualification of one of who has already been voted upon?

Once the May 9 elections began, Bongbong, like everyone else running for elective positions, had gone beyond the reach of disqualification proceedings as far as their candidacies are concerned.

In this regard, Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd warned Thursday that the country could be plunged into a “constitutional crisis” if the Supreme Court grants the petitions against presumptive president Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

“If that happens, we will be courting a constitutional crisis from the fact that Congress can no longer meet after June 3rd,” Sotto said in a text message shared to reporters. “Who will then conduct the canvass as mandated by the Constitution?”

Article VII, Section 4 of the 1987 Constitution mandates Congress to canvass the votes for president and vice president and then proceed to proclaim winners for the respective elective posts.

Beginning May 24, Congress must convene in a joint session for the canvassing of votes onward to proclaim a president-elect and a vice president-elect by May 27. But if the Supreme Court ends up granting the prayer of the petitioners against Marcos, the 18th Congress may end on June 30 without having proclaimed anyone as president or vice president.

Certainly, such a situation forebodes chaos.

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