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Screening nuisance candidates and job applicants

Liberal Party presidential bet Mar Roxas asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to declare Manuel Antonio Roxas a nuisance candidate. Mar Roxas’ namesake is one of the 130 who filed their certificates of candidacy (COCs) for the presidency. Aside from the top post, 19 filed COCs for the vice presidency and 172 for the 12 Senate seats.

Equal access. These high national posts require only five qualifications: (1) natural-born citizenship, (2) registered voter, (3) ability to read and write, (4) age—40 years for president/vice president and 35 for senators, and (5) Philippine residence—10 years for president/vice president and two for senators.

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The rationale for these simple qualifications is to give the least of our compatriots an even chance to become our country’s leaders per the constitutional principle that “[t]he State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service.”

While the Constitution theoretically guarantees equal access to public service, it nonetheless accepts the reality that, to quote the Supreme Court in Pamatong vs Comelec (April 13, 2004), “[t]he State has a compelling interest to ensure that its electoral exercises are rational, objective, and orderly…  Inevitably, the greater the number of candidates, the greater the opportunities for logistical confusion, not to mention the increased allocation of time and resources in preparation for the election… Ultimately, a disorderly election is not merely a textbook example of inefficiency, but a rot that erodes faith in our democratic institutions.”

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Cancellation, not disqualification. Consequently, the Comelec had been authorized by the Omnibus Election Code to cancel the COCs of “nuisance candidates,” meaning those who (1) “put the election process in mockery or disrepute, or (2) cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of names of the registered candidates… or (3) have no bona fide intention to run for public office…”

Note that, technically, nuisance candidates are not “disqualified” because they may in fact possess all the five qualifications and none of the disqualification provided by law. Rather, their COCs are cancelled due to those three reasons.

Based on the foregoing, I agree with Mar Roxas. However, before COCs can be cancelled, the Comelec must first ask his namesake and the other alleged nuisance candidates to show their bona fides, which are usually their financial capacity and ability to mount a nationwide campaign. Some may criticize this as a waste of time given what the public already knows about them, but due process is an indispensable part of our democracy.

The Comelec has given itself an early deadline, Dec. 10, to weed out nuisance candidates because it has to print the automated ballots where all the names of the qualified bets are to be listed. Only the names printed on the official ballot can be voted upon during Election Day, and read and counted by the PCOS machines.

In our automated election, the ballots are “precinct-specific”—that is, the candidates for local positions differ from town to town, and from city to city. For example, the candidates for mayor and councilors in Manila are different from those in Makati. Hence, the ballots for Manila cannot be used in Makati, even if the candidates for national positions are the same.

Screening other job applicants. While the constitutionally prescribed qualifications for national elective offices are simple and easy to comply with, those for appointive ones are quite difficult to pass.

For example, Supreme Court justices are required to have only two of the five minimum qualifications of elective officials: (1) natural-born citizenship and (2) age—40 years, like that for president/vice president.

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However, instead of being required only to read and write, they “must have been for 15 years or more a judge of a lower court or engaged in the practice of law in the Philippines.” To be a judge or to engage in the practice of law, one must study a four-year preparatory law course, plus another four-year basic law course, and then hurdle the bar exam (where only an average of 20 percent pass yearly).

Moreover, justices (like all other members of the judiciary) “must … be of proven competence, integrity, probity and independence.” In addition, they must pass the scrutiny of the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). In effect, the JBC acts like the Comelec in screening judicial appointees, but the JBC’s processes are more strict for they include lengthy interviews, psychological tests, background checks, medical clearances, etc.

Applicants for judicial posts can be numerous. For example, 88 are vying for the six newly created slots in the Sandiganbayan, who must all undergo the JBC’s screening

In short, elective officials need not have scholastic qualities and desirable character traits, or pass strict screenings. On the other hand, Supreme Court justices have to possess at least two academic degrees, pass the bar exam, and hurdle the JBC before they are vetted for appointment.

This is why I think elective officials should have some educational attainment like a college degree, and character traits like integrity and honor before they are voted upon by the people.

If appointive officials in lowly rungs of the officialdom are required to possess civil service eligibility which include college degrees and moral character as prerequisites, why not the highest officials of our land?       

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TAGS: 2016 Elections, Art Panganiban, Elections 2016, Mar Roxas, nuisance candidates, VotePH
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