Nuisance candidates; versatile jurist

MANILA, Philippines—Expect a deluge of “wannabes” on Dec. 1, the deadline for filing certificates of candidacies (COC). The patience of the Commission on Elections will be tested as it balances the urgency to disqualify nuisance candidates on the one hand and its constitutional duty to protect the right to seek public office on the other.

Nuisances and pests. Many pesky publicity-seekers will harangue the Comelec with all kinds of excuses to be accredited as candidates. What better means to gain national “glory” than for their names to be published, free of charge, in the 50 million automated ballots to be printed by the Comelec. Why, that number is much bigger than the circulation of all newspapers and magazines combined!

Nuisance candidates confuse voters and harm bona fide candidates. Under the old manual system, a candidate who calls himself “Nonoy Aquino” would nullify votes intended for Noynoy Aquino; and “Meny Villar” for Manny Villar. While this kind of mayhem is minimized in automated elections because the names of the candidates are pre-printed and numbered, still the inclusion of publicity-seekers will unduly lengthen the already long ballot.

More than 17,000 positions, from the highest national office (president) to the lowest municipal posts (councilors), will be filled in next year’s polls. During the 2004 presidential election, some 68,000 wannabes filed COCs. Because of the free printing of names in the automated ballots, expect many more to run in 2010. The Comelec has only until Jan. 9, the deadline for printing the automated ballots, to rid the list of unwanted candidates; otherwise, the ballots will be overpopulated with nuisances and pests.

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Versatile jurist. On Dec. 5, Justice Minita V. Chico-Nazario will retire from the judiciary. As a judge in the Regional Trial Court of Biñan, Laguna, she was known for her crisp and clear verdicts. She is the first woman to head our anti-graft court, the Sandiganbayan. National attention was riveted on her as she presided over the plunder trial of former President Joseph Estrada. However, before she could complete that celebrated case, she was promoted to the Supreme Court on Feb. 10, 2004.

As a career jurist, she expectedly wrote many mainstream Supreme Court decisions, like People vs Tirona (July 15, 2005) that barred appeals in judgments of acquittal except only on “a finding of mistrial resulting in a denial of due process,” or Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) vs Garin (April 15, 2005) that stripped the MMDA of the power to confiscate and suspend or revoke drivers’ licenses.

What caught my admiration, however, are her many landmark decisions on the little-known fields of taxation, securities, corporate and commercial law. To be an expert on criminal law, that was expected of her as a former Sandiganbayan justice. But to be equally adept on these esoteric fields is nothing short of awesome. Let me give samples of her ascendant versatility.

In SEC vs Interport Resources (Oct. 6, 2008), she enforced the fiduciary responsibility of corporate officers who misuse “insider information.” Stripping the securities law of its forbidding mystic, she relied on its underlying logic, “The intent of the law is the protection of investors against fraud committed when an insider, using secret information, takes advantage of an uninformed investor.” In Cemco Holdings vs National Life Insurance (Aug. 7, 2007), she also used the law’s intent, rather than its letter, to apply the rule on mandatory tender offer in the stock market.

Here are some of her notable rulings on the difficult subject of taxation: (1) Exports of goods and services from Special Economic Zones “shall be free of VAT.” (CIR vs Toshiba, Aug. 5, 2005); (2) The three-year period within which to assess deficiency income taxes has been enacted for the benefit of the taxpayers and should thus be construed in their favor. (CIR vs. Phil. Global Communications, Oct. 31, 2006), and (3) The law gives special tax treatment to Philippine Airlines to make it competitive with rival international carriers and thus should be construed in PAL’s favor. (CIR vs. PAL, July 7, 2009)

Coming from a career jurist who had no business background, these pronouncements speak not merely of judicial wisdom but of versatility of the highest degree. Traditionally, jurists are expected to uphold constitutional rights and civil obligations. However, not too many have the know-how and the aptitude to bring the courtroom into the economy.

I believe Justice Nazario epitomizes the compleat 21st-century jurist who not only safeguards the liberty of our people but also nurtures their prosperity.

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Congratulations to an exceptional and gentle lady, Dr. Lydia B. Echauz, for having been acclaimed as one of The Outstanding Filipinos (Tofil) for 2009. I met her over 20 years ago when we were both active members of the Management Association of the Philippines. Since then, I have tracked her impressive career in education as president of the Far Eastern University and in business as a director/consultant of several giant corporations.

Dr. Echauz has been able to combine the cerebral demands of the academe with the exacting hands-on requirements of industry. She has proven that liberal education for which FEU is known for is compatible with the developmental goals that industry needs. She exemplifies ethics and economics; integrity and investment; theory and practice.

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