Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pamatong arrested for direct contempt

Facts: Rev. Elly Velez Pamatong filed his Certificate of Candidacy for President on 17 December 2003. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) refused to give due course to Pamatong’s Certificate of Candidacy in its Resolution 6558 dated 17 January 2004. The decision, however, was not unanimous since Commissioners Luzviminda G. Tancangco and Mehol K. Sadain voted to include Pamatong as they believed he had parties or movements to back up his candidacy. On 15 January 2004, Pamatong moved for reconsideration of Resolution 6558. The COMELEC, acting on Pamatong’s Motion for Reconsideration (SPP [MP] 04-001) and on similar motions filed by other aspirants for national elective positions, denied the same under the aegis of Omnibus Resolution 6604 dated 11 February 2004. The COMELEC declared Pamatong and 35 others nuisance candidates who could not wage a nationwide campaign and/or are not nominated by a political party or are not supported by a registered political party with a national constituency. Commissioner Sadain maintained his vote for Pamatong. By then, Commissioner Tancangco had retired. Pamatong filed the Petition For Writ of Certiorari, seeking to reverse the resolutions which were allegedly rendered in violation of his right to "equal access to opportunities for public service" under Section 26, Article II of the 1987 Constitution, by limiting the number of qualified candidates only to those who can afford to wage a nationwide campaign and/or are nominated by political parties. In so doing, Pamatong argues that the COMELEC indirectly amended the constitutional provisions on the electoral process and limited the power of the sovereign people to choose their leaders. The COMELEC supposedly erred in disqualifying him since he is the most qualified among all the presidential candidates, i.e., he possesses all the constitutional and legal qualifications for the office of the president, he is capable of waging a national campaign since he has numerous national organizations under his leadership, he also has the capacity to wage an international campaign since he has practiced law in other countries, and he has a platform of government. Pamatong likewise attacks the validity of the form for the Certificate of Candidacy prepared by the COMELEC. Pamatong claims that the form does not provide clear and reasonable guidelines for determining the qualifications of candidates since it does not ask for the candidate’s bio-data and his program of government.

Issue: Whether there is a constitutional right to run for or hold public office and, particularly, to seek the presidency.

Held: There is no constitutional right to run for or hold public office and, particularly, to seek the presidency. What is recognized is merely a privilege subject to limitations imposed by law. Section 26, Article II of the Constitution neither bestows such a right nor elevates the privilege to the level of an enforceable right. There is nothing in the plain language of the provision which suggests such a thrust or justifies an interpretation of the sort. The "equal access" provision is a subsumed part of Article II of the Constitution, entitled "Declaration of Principles and State Policies." The provisions under the Article are generally considered not self-executing, and there is no plausible reason for according a different treatment to the "equal access" provision. Like the rest of the policies enumerated in Article II, the provision does not contain any judicially enforceable constitutional right but merely specifies a guideline for legislative or executive action. The disregard of the provision does not give rise to any cause of action before the courts. An inquiry into the intent of the framers5 produces the same determination that the provision is not self-executory. The original wording of the present Section 26, Article II had read, "The State shall broaden opportunities to public office and prohibit public dynasties." Commissioner (now Chief Justice) Hilario Davide, Jr. successfully brought forth an amendment that changed the word "broaden" to the phrase "ensure equal access," and the substitution of the word "office" to "service." The provision is not intended to compel the State to enact positive measures that would accommodate as many people as possible into public office. The approval of the "Davide amendment" indicates the design of the framers to cast the provision as simply enunciatory of a desired policy objective and not reflective of the imposition of a clear State burden. Moreover, the provision as written leaves much to be desired if it is to be regarded as the source of positive rights. It is difficult to interpret the clause as operative in the absence of legislation since its effective means and reach are not properly defined. Broadly written, the myriad of claims that can be subsumed under this rubric appear to be entirely open-ended. Words and phrases such as "equal access," "opportunities," and "public service" are susceptible to countless interpretations owing to their inherent impreciseness. Certainly, it was not the intention of the framers to inflict on the people an operative but amorphous foundation from which innately unenforceable rights may be sourced. The privilege of equal access to opportunities to public office may be subjected to limitations. Some valid limitations specifically on the privilege to seek elective office are found in the provisions of the Omnibus Election Code on "Nuisance Candidates" and COMELEC Resolution 645210 dated 10 December 2002 outlining the instances wherein the COMELEC may motu proprio refuse to give due course to or cancel a Certificate of Candidacy. As long as the limitations apply to everybody equally without discrimination, however, the equal access clause is not violated. Equality is not sacrificed as long as the burdens engendered by the limitations are meant to be borne by any one who is minded to file a certificate of candidacy. Herein, there is no showing that any person is exempt from the limitations or the burdens which they create.

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