Nuisance candidates and ‘idem sonans’

By Atty. Eduardo T. Reyes III

After a series of postponements, positions for barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) are finally up for grabs this coming October 30, 2023.

The election results are expected to be close as voters will choose among their own neighbors most of whom are related to them either by affinity (marriage) or consanguinity (blood).

Elections are an exercise of the people’s choice on who will lead them in government. It is a sacred process in the sense that democracy is at play when the elections are free, honest and transparent.

Election laws, guidelines and jurisprudence allow candidates to use nicknames because the voters’ choice must be given a premium in this exercise.

Two concerns could frustrate the voters’ choice, however: (1) nuisance candidates; and, (2) confusing similarity in the names of candidates.

Nuisance candidates are defined in the consolidated cases of Roberto “Pinpin” T. Uy, Jr. v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 260650/G.R. No. 260952, which came down on August 8, 2023, viz:

“Clearly, nuisance candidates are those who filed their CoCs: (1) to put the election process in mockery or disrepute; (2) to cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of the names of the registered candidates; or (3) under circumstances or acts which clearly demonstrate that the candidate has no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the CoC has been filed. The common thread of the three instances is that nuisance candidates filed their CoCs not to aspire or seek public office but to prevent “a faithful determination of the true will of the electorate.”

In short, nuisance candidates are those who run for public office without a genuine intention of serving the people but rather to cause chaos or confusion. Their intention could range from pure delusion to being spurred by some monetary or other consideration to bring down one candidate in support of another.

Related to the worrying issue of nuisance candidates is the principle of “idem sonan.” In law, it means “same sounding” names. Especially in the Philippines where the monikers “toto,” “nene,” “boy” and many others are ubiquitous, it is easy to mistake one for the other.

Idem sonan” could be used to credit a vote which is misspelled if it “sounds alike” with the name of one candidate running for the same position where the vote was cast. However, this principle, as explained in the recent case of Roberto “Pinpin” T. Uy, Jr. v. Commission on Elections, may only be relevant in a manual elections where the names of candidates are handwritten by the voter; but not in an automated elections system (AES) where the names of the candidates are printed and the role of the voter is only to shade the name, thus:

“The striking difference in their names appearing on the ballots are more than enough for the voters to distinguish the entries in the ballots despite the similarity in the surnames. Apparently, “Kuya Jan” and “Romeo” are distinct from each other. Also, with AES, the Comelec’s observation that the nicknames “Kuya Jonjon” and “Kuya Jan” are phonetically identical becomes inconsequential. The principle of “idem sonans” or the similarity in the pronunciation is irrelevant because the voters only need to shade the oval beside their chosen candidate. The claim that the voters would be confused with the candidates’ nicknames is a product of too much inference without adequate proof.”

Looking forward to the barangay and SK elections on October 30, 2023, may the will of the voters prevail over other considerations.

To be sure, this electoral process is one “closest to home,” both literally and metaphorically.

                (The author is the senior partner of ET Reyes III & Associates– a law firm based in Iloilo City. He is a litigation attorney, a law professor, MCLE lecturer, bar reviewer and a book author. His website is