Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) must not use legal technicalities stemming from a clerical error to stop Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte from running for president.
In a column for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Panganiban expressed his belief that it is always preferable to just refer the matter to the voters. “In applying election laws, it would be far better to err in favor of popular sovereignty than to be right in complex but little understood legalisms,” he wrote. He served as chief justice from 2005 to 2006, during the term of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“If the only reason for his alleged disqualification is a typographical error, I believe he should be allowed to run for president,” Panganiban explained. “Substantial justice, not literal interpretation, should be applied,” he further emphasized.
Panganiban then cited Frivaldo vs COMELEC, an electoral dispute that the SC decided in 1996 with him as the ponente. “Political laws must be interpreted to give life and spirit to the popular mandate freely expressed through the ballot. Otherwise stated, legal niceties and technicalities cannot stand in the way of the sovereign will,” he wrote in behalf of the majority.
“Laws governing election contests must be liberally construed to the end that the will of the people in the choice of public officials may not be defeated by mere technical objections,” the decision further elucidates.
The disqualification case against Duterte stems from the fact that Martin Diño, the man he is seeking to replace as presidential candidate for PDP-Laban, wrote in his certificate of candidacy that he is running as mayor of Pasay City and not as president. Duterte’s camp has described the mistake as a mere “clerical error.”
The petitions were filed by broadcaster Ruben Castor, disqualified presidential candidates Rizalito David and Elly Pamatong, and University of the Philippines Diliman Student Council chairman John Paulo Delas Nieves, with the initial hearing set for January 12. If COMELEC rules that Diño is not a candidate for president in the first place, then there’s no way Duterte can substitute for him.
The retired SC chief nevertheless explained that he is not in any way endorsing Duterte’s presidential bid. “This does not mean I approve of his human rights shortcuts or habitual cussing. Legal eligibility is different from electoral acceptability,” Panganiban said.