Mr. Bitong Bigote, a Barangay Captain aspirant in Barangay Bitok, municipality of Budol, is anxiously waiting for the period to file his Certificate of Candidacy (cOc) for the October 30, 2023 Barangay and SK Elections. He really waited for the period of filing and even contemplated on which lucky day he can proceed to the Election Office. So excited was he, that he even had his mustache groomed for the special occasion, only to find out that his cOc was not accepted. Apparently, the Election Court, the constitutional body tasked with the administration of Election Laws as well as the conduct of electoral exercises in the country, recently issued a resolution where Election Offices will no longer be accepting the CoCs of would-be candidates who are not registered voters. Mr. Bitong Bigote now questions this. How can the Election Office refuse his cOc when it is explicitly cited in Section 76 of the Election Code that the duty of the Election Office in accepting cOcs is ministerial?
Question: What is the extent of the ministerial duty to accept cOcs?
Answer: Section 76 of the Omnibus Election Code provides for the ministerial duty of the Comelec to receive and acknowledge receipt of the cOc, but this duty is applicable only to matters relating to the form of the cOc. “The duty of the COMELEC to give due course to certificates of candidacy filed in due form is ministerial in character. While the Commission may look into the patent defects in the certificates. It may not go into matters not appearing on their face. The question of eligibility or ineligibility of a candidate is thus beyond the usual and proper cognizance of said body.” (Cipriano vs. Comelec, August 10, 2004).
When it comes to the qualifications of the individual (being a registered voter is a qualification under Section 39 of the Local Government Code) who is filing a cOc, the Election Office is not empowered to determine whether an aspirant for a local elective position is qualified or not. Its only duty is to check whether the cOc is complete and regular in form. If it is not, it has the responsibility to require the filer to complete the cOc. If the cOc filed is not notarized, not filled up properly, it lacks a photo, an old form, or it has not been signed, then that is the time that acceptance can be refused until the filer complies with the requirements. A local election office cannot look into the intrinsic validity of a cOc. If the cOc is perfect in form, then the ministerial duty to accept under Section 76 of the Omnibus Election Code must be followed.
***Comments made in this article are made by me in my personal capacity as a lawyer and not as an employee of the Comelec.