Supreme Court: Appointive Officials Need Not Resign (Quinto vs. Comelec)

December 3, 2009

In a vote of 8-6, the Supreme Court, through Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Jr., ruled that appointed officials who have filed their certificates of candidacy (COC) for the 2010 elections need not resign and may opt to remain in their respective posts. The ruling stemmed from a petition filed by Romulo B. Macalintal in behalf of two government officials, namely Eleazar P. Quinto and Gerino A. Tolentino, Jr., who will be seeking elective posts in 2010. The Court, thus, struck down as unconstitutional the second provision in the third paragraph of Section 13, Republic Act 9369 (The Poll Automation Law); Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code; and Section 4(a) of Comelec Resolution 8678.

In granting the petition, the Court found that petitioners’ interest in running for public office, an interest protected by Sections 4 and 8 of Article III of the Constitution, is breached by the proviso in Section 13 of R.A. No. 9369 and that it was “now the opportune time for the Court to strike down the said proviso for being violative of the equal protection clause and for being overbroad.” In finding that there was a violation of the equal protection clause, the Court ruled that:

“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.

In order that there can be valid classification so that a discriminatory governmental act may pass the constitutional norm of equal protection, it is necessary that the four (4) requisites of valid classification be complied with, namely:

(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. As illustrated in the fairly recent Mirasol v. Department of Public Works and Highways, a real and substantial distinction exists between a motorcycle and other motor vehicles sufficient to justify its classification among those prohibited from plying the toll ways. Not all motorized vehicles are created equal—a two-wheeled vehicle is less stable and more easily overturned than a four-wheel vehicle.

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. Justice Isagani A. Cruz (Ret.), in his treatise on constitutional law, explains,

The classification, even if based on substantial distinctions, will still be invalid if it is not germane to the purpose of the law. To illustrate, the accepted difference in physical stamina between men and women will justify the prohibition of the latter from employment as miners or stevedores or in other heavy and strenuous work. On the basis of this same classification, however, the law cannot provide for a lower passing average for women in the bar examinations because physical strength is not the test for admission to the legal profession. Imported cars may be taxed at a higher rate than locally assembled automobiles for the protection of the national economy, but their difference in origin is no justification for treating them differently when it comes to punishing violations of traffic regulations. The source of the vehicle has no relation to the observance of these rules.

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.

Applying the four requisites to the instant case, the Court finds that 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.

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There is thus no valid justification to treat appointive officials differently from the elective ones.  The classification simply fails to meet the test that it should be germane to the purposes of the law.  The measure encapsulated in the second proviso of the third paragraph of Section 13 of R.A. No. 9369 and in Section 66 of the OEC violates the equal protection clause.”

In finding that the challenged proviso suffers from the infirmity of being overbroad, the Court held, to wit:

“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.”

Justice Nachura was joined in the majority by Associate Justices Renato C. Corona, Minita V. Chico-Nazario, Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., Teresita J. Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo D. Brion, Lucas P. Bersamin and Mariano C. del Castillo. Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno led the dissenters with a seventy page dissenting opinion. Also filing separate dissenting opinions were Associate Justice Antonio T. Carpio and Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales.

3 Responses to “Supreme Court: Appointive Officials Need Not Resign (Quinto vs. Comelec)”

  1. I agree with the chief justice. With this pronouncement, many opportunist appointive officials will run in 2010 national election using the influence and public money accorded to their office. Imagine a situation where a Comelec Commissioner running in the Congress (without being considered ipso facto resigned)… It is a patent absurdity.

  2. how about the 4th requisite that it must apply to all members of the same class?are elective and appointive officials of the same class?i dont think so,but then again im not a Supreme Court justice…

  3. At last the Supreme Court itself reversed their decision and I commend them. I have high respect with Mr. Nachura but his decision appears short of apprehension of the effect of it. Imagine how chaotic the situation is even the election officers filed their candidacy but were not resigned in their position. Hope Mr. AJ Nachura next show the people of being apolitical and pen decision that will not create doubt on his credibility as Justice of the Highest Court of the Land, the Court of Las Resort.

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