By Atty. Howard Calleja
Every election cycle, netizens become enamored with certain applicants for local and national positions; security guards, farmers, and teachers, people with no political backing, but often show a clear desire to better the country and create a government “of the people, and for the people.” But, just as quickly, these names are forgotten. Why? Because they are declared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as “nuisance candidates”, despite many of them having excellent platforms and are applicants who are, in all likelihood, best fit to represent the sectors without voices – but who make up the vast majority of our country.
With a total of 97 applicants for President and 29 for Vice-President, we can expect that, by December, Comelec will have undergone a mass cut of the applicants to declare the “legitimate”candidates who will appear on the ballots. Political aspirants who are declared “nuisance candidate” are those who Comelec shows to have: 1) no legitimate intention to run for the office filed; 2) filed in order to make a mockery of the election process; or 3) filed to create confusion on the ballot (often because they have the same name as more “famous candidates” and to split the vote between them).
The idea of “nuisance candidates” is not a new one, and it is certainly one that has been described as discriminatory. Particularly, there are many who argue it is against the principle that any Filipino should have a chance to lead – especially with proposed bills for a P50,000 fine on those filing a Certificate of Candidacy (COC) with an intent to “disrespect” the process, that can disproportionately grant a disadvantage on poor candidates who may feel even more hesitant to file COC’s for fear of being struck with a fine. The case of Pamatong v. Comelec explains this anti-poor perspective further when recognizing the basis of the removal of nuisance candidates included those who “cannot clearly wage a national campaign”. In the age of social media, where much of our campaigning and debating happens on a free, and instant, platform, is this truly what we have reduced our election to? Especially when we have other aspirants who, though able to afford a campaign, obviously have no desire to run for office?
One of which happens to be the trigger-happy Senator Bato Dela Rosa, who has publicly declared that he was not part of the decision in his application for President – and even stated that he would drop out should Sarah Duterte choose to substitute him. By being informed 2 hours before the closing of petitions for COC’s on October 8, and publicly declaring himself to be a placeholder while PDP-Laban convinces or finds a real candidate for the position of President, the public is left confused as to their true potential candidate.
The fact that we will likely exclude those who cannot afford a national campaign, and even go so far as to fine them, but will likely accept another Duterte’s roundabout method of confusing the electorate in their vain attempt to gain power, tells the public all they need to know about what truly makes a mockery of the upcoming election: candidates who hide the real intention when filing their COC’s.
Though substitution is a valid legal option, it should not be used as a smokescreen of deceit where a placeholder and their “true” option extend the period of filing of candidacy, for the latter for reasons only known to them, from October 8 to November 15. This is a clear abuse of the electoral process and is, indeed, a nuisance to the public at large. It is not just the supporters of PDP-Laban that are left in the dark, but the entirety of the country as well. What are we to expect of the platform of Bato? Should we expect anything at all? And is his openness of a lack of desire to run for President the attitude we should expect from the entire party?
At the very least, does this not also qualify him as a nuisance candidate? Section 69 of the Omnibus Election Code has stated that a COC may be canceled if it “clearly demonstrates that the candidate has no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the certificate of candidacy has been filed and thus prevent a faithful determination of the true will of the electorate.” Bato’s remarks truly show no intention to run, and especially no desire. He has even stated that he was not part of the discussion at all! If we hold the poor to a ridiculous standard of wealth, can we at least hold current officials to a standard of integrity? The true nuisance is the lack of discernment in placing one’s name alongside highly qualified candidates with accountability, for a chance at publicity or to be a placeholder for another. By jumping on the presidential bandwagon, Bato has shown his true colors; he is truly a trained dog of the PDP-Laban ready to jump into the lap of whoever will be his real master.