SC: Candidates are required to have "enough money"; if not, they are "panggulo"


"Financial capability to wage a nationwide campaign" means "enough money" and it is one of the requirements to run for a national elective office. In fact, a candidate who cannot "afford to wage a nationwide campaign and/or [who] are nominated by political parties" are declared by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as "nuisance candidates." In Filipino, they are considered "mga panggulo lang." (G.R. No. 161872 and G.R. No. 177179)

A "nuisance candidate" is one who "has been filed to put the election process in mockery or disrepute or to cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of the names of the registered candidates or by other circumstances or acts which clearly demonstrate that the candidate has no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the certificate of candidacy has been filed and thus prevent a faithful determination of the true will of the electorate."

In 2004, a petition was filed with the Supreme Court (SC) where Rev. Elly Pamatong questioned this requirement and invoked "equal access to opportunities for public service." According to the petitioner, 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, the COMELEC violated Section 26, Article II of the 1987 Constitution which says: "The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law."

However, the SC ruled that there is NO constitutional right to run for or hold public office. 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.

In addition, the SC emphasized that the provision cited is NOT self-executing. The provision is not intended to compel the State to enact positive measures that would accommodate as many people as possible into public office. Therefore, the privilege of equal access to opportunities to public office may be subjected to limitations.Rev. Pamatong also invoked the equal protection clause under Section 1 of Article II of the Constitution. The invocation did not succeed. According to the SC, 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. In the petition by Pamatong, there was no showing that any person is exempt from the limitations or the burdens which they create.

What is the valid reason, if any, for imposing a financial requirement among candidates? The Court was quick to add an explanation.

The rationale behind the prohibition against nuisance candidates and the disqualification of candidates who have not evinced a bona fide intention to run for office is easy to divine. The State has a compelling interest to ensure that its electoral exercises are rational, objective, and orderly. Towards this end, the State takes into account the practical considerations in conducting elections. 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. These practical difficulties should, of course, never exempt the State from the conduct of a mandated electoral exercise. At the same time, remedial actions should be available to alleviate these logistical hardships, whenever necessary and proper. Ultimately, a disorderly election is not merely a textbook example of inefficiency, but a rot that erodes faith in our democratic institutions.

Jenness v. Fortson (403 U.S. 431, 1971): [T]here is surely an important state interest in requiring some preliminary showing of a significant modicum of support before printing the name of a political organization and its candidates on the ballot – the interest, if no other, in avoiding confusion, deception and even frustration of the democratic [process].

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