On December 1, 2009, the Supreme Court voting 8-6 declared as unconstitutional the second provision in the third paragraph of Section 13 of Republic Act No. 9369, Section 66 of Batas Pambansa Blg. 881 and Section 4(a) of COMELEC Resolution No. 8678, for being violative of the equal protection clause and for being overbroad. The ponente of the decision was Justice Antonio B. Nachura.
On February 22, 2010, voting 10-5, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling, granted the motions for reconsideration of its December 1, 2009 decision and upheld the constitutionality of the three provisions in election laws that deemed appointive officials automatically resigned once they filed their certificates of candidacy (CoCs). The ruling was penned by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno with a dissent from Justice Nachura.
Speaking for the Court, Chief Justice Puno rationalized that the issue as to equal protection has been addressed in the earlier case of case of Farinas v. Executive Secretary, (G.R. No. 147387, December 10, 2003) where the Court stated that “the equal protection of the law clause in the Constitution is not absolute, but is subject to reasonable classification. If the groupings are characterized by substantial distinctions that make real differences, one class may be treated and regulated differently from the other. x x Substantial distinctions clearly exist between elective officials and appointive officials. The former occupy their office by virtue of the mandate of the electorate. They are elected to an office for a definite term and may be removed therefrom only upon stringent conditions. On the other hand, appointive officials hold their office by virtue of their designation thereto by an appointing authority. Some appointive officials hold their office in a permanent capacity and are entitled to security of tenure while others serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority. x x Another substantial distinction between the two sets of officials is that under Section 55, Chapter 8, Title I, Subsection A. Civil Service Commission, Book V of the Administrative Code of 1987 (Executive Order No. 292), appointive officials, as officers and employees in the civil service, are strictly prohibited from engaging in any partisan political activity or take (sic) part in any election except to vote. Under the same provision, elective officials, or officers or employees holding political offices, are obviously expressly allowed to take part in political and electoral activities.”
The Court goes on to state that “By repealing Section 67 but retaining Section 66 of the Omnibus Election Code, the legislators deemed it proper to treat these two classes of officials differently with respect to the effect on their tenure in the office of the filing of the certificates of candidacy for any position other than those occupied by them. Again, it is not within the power of the Court to pass upon or look into the wisdom of this classification. x x x Since the classification justifying Section 14 of Rep. Act No. 9006, i.e., elected officials vis-à-vis appointive officials, is anchored upon material and significant distinctions and all the persons belonging under the same classification are similarly treated, the equal protection clause of the Constitution is, thus, not infringed.”
In view of these pronouncements, Justice Puno states that the case at bar is “a crass attempt to resurrect a dead issue.” And that “the miracle is that the (our) assailed Decision gave it new life. We ought to be guided by the doctrine of stare decisis et non quieta movere. This doctrine, which is really “adherence to precedents,” mandates that once a case has been decided one way, then another case involving exactly the same point at issue should be decided in the same manner.”
“The Farinas ruling on the equal protection implications of the deemed-resigned provisions cannot be minimalized as mere obiter dictum. It is trite to state that an adjudication on any point within the issues presented by the case cannot be considered as obiter dictum. This rule applies to all pertinent questions that are presented and resolved in the regular course of the consideration of the case and lead up to the final conclusion, and to any statement as to the matter on which the decision is predicated.”
The concern, voiced by Justice Nachura, in his dissent, that elected officials (vis-à-vis appointive officials) have greater political clout over the electorate, is indeed a matter worth exploring – but not by the Court. The remedy lies with the Legislature. “It is the Legislature that is given the authority, under our constitutional system, to balance competing interests and thereafter make policy choices responsive to the exigencies of the times. It is certainly within the Legislature’s power to make the deemed-resigned provisions applicable to elected officials, should it later decide that the evils sought to be prevented are of such frequency and magnitude as to tilt the balance in favor of expanding the class. The Court cannot and should not arrogate unto itself the power to ascertain and impose on the people the best state of affairs from a public policy standpoint.”