Lesson in Law:
Under Section 111. of the Omnibus Election Code, which until today remains in effect, unamended by any subsequent law states the following and I quote in full:
“Sec. 111. Effect of failure to file statement. – In addition to other sanctions provided in this Code, no person elected to any public office shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.
The same prohibition shall apply if the political party which nominated the winning candidate fails to file the statements required herein within the period prescribed by this Code.”
The law categorically stated that a person elected to ANY public office whose political party failed to file the Statement of Contribution and Expenditures or SOCE within the period prescribed by the Omnibus Election Code shall not enter upon the duties of his/her office.
However, a cursory reading of Section 111 would expose a grey area in the law.
The first paragraph stated that “no person elected to any public office shall enter upon the duties of his office UNTIL he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.”
On the contrary, the filing of SOCEs for political parties provided that “[t]he same prohibition shall apply IF the political party X X X fails to file X X X within the period prescribed by this Code.” It specifically mentioned the period requirement.
Grammarians would notice that for candidates, it used the conjunction & preposition “UNTIL” while for political parties, it used the conjunction “IF”.
According to Cambridge English Dictionary Online, the word “until” is both a conjunction and a preposition pertaining to both time and distance. For time, it may be positive and mean, (1) up to (the time that), [example: Digong was up UNTIL three o’clock this morning.]; or it may also be negative or not until and mean, (2) not before a particular time or event, [example: Once Digong starts killing drug lords, he won’t stop UNTIL it’s done.].
Here, the word until is in the negative, meaning not before a particular time or event, i.e. “no person elected to any public office shall enter upon the duties of his office UNTIL he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.”
On the other hand, the word “if” may mean, (1) used to say that a particular thing can or will happen only after something else happens or becomes true, [example: I’ll pay you double if you get the work finished this afternoon.].
Thus, the provision for political parties should be read in the positive, meaning that the prohibition shall apply if something becomes true, that is “if the political party which nominated the winning candidate fails to file the statements required herein within the period prescribed by this Code.”
For consistency, the two provisions should be read for candidates with political party affiliations, to wit:
“no person elected to any public office, shall enter upon the duties of his office, IF the political party which nominated the winning candidate fails to file the statements required herein within the period prescribed by this Code.”
Thus, the law created another requirement for candidates with political parties, and it is in the positive.
Does it mean that for individual candidates may file their SOCEs beyond the regulation period and still be allowed to sit out their terms so long as they file the SOCEs? Does it cause the winning candidates to forfeit their franchise because their political party failed to file “within the period” as prescribed by law? Can the political party file the SOCE even beyond the prescribed period and the winning candidates, both national and local, be allowed “to enter upon the duties of his office”? Did the law treated candidates with political affiliations less? Is there a different treatment in such a way that candidates is are given a wrist slap while political parties are pounded with a sledge hammer?
In election law, all doubts are resolved in favor of the sovereign will. In the landmark case of Frivaldo v. COMELEC, the High Court had ruled in this wise:
“… This Court has time and again liberally and equitably construed the electoral laws of our country to give fullest effect to the manifest will of our people. For in case of doubt, 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… 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…”
A Supreme Court test case is in order. The political life of more than half of the elected national and local candidates hang in the balance. Let us await the decision of the COMELEC En Banc.