By Celeste Ann Castillo Llaneta
University of the Philippines
The Forum - May-June 2009 - (Vol 10 Issue 3)
All the world’s a stage, and at no time is this more evident than during national elections. November 30 is the red letter day for those intending to run in 2010, since they have until then to file their candidacies. Their fate as candidates, however, is not in their hands. It is up to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which weeds out the fly-by-nights, would-be messiahs, and other such nuisance candidates.
However, in the course of declaring nuisance candidates some well-meaning and qualified aspirants—aspirants who might well have made a positive difference had they been elected—get scratched out of the list. One of these is Ateneo de Manila University English Professor Danton Remoto, who ran as representative of the party-list group Ang Ladlad in the May 2007 elections. When the Comelec dismissed Ang Ladlad as eligible to be part of the party list, Remoto aimed for a Senate seat but was eventually declared a nuisance candidate. On the other hand, the list of qualified candidates inevitably includes the usual moneyed, powerful traditional politicians—the same people who have run the country to the ground to further their own interests. All these factors thus make determining who should be given the chance to serve in national government a daunting task.
Privilege, not a right
Under Section 26, Article II of the Constitution, Filipinos are guaranteed “equal access to opportunities for public service,” a provision often cited by people contesting the Comelec’s decision to declare them nuisance candidates and disqualify them from running. This issue, says Comelec Commissioner Rene V. Sarmiento (LLB’78), was discussed in the case of Rev. Elly Chavez Pamatong vs. Comelec (GR No. 161872, April 13, 2004), in which the Supreme Court upheld the Comelec’s decision to declare presidential hopeful Pamatong a nuisance candidate during the 2004 elections, stating that “Section 26, Article II of the Constitution neither bestows such a right nor elevates the privilege to the level of an enforceable right...the provision does not contain any judicially enforceable constitutional right but merely specifies a guideline for legislative or executive action.”
“Pamatong claimed that according to the Constitution, individuals should be given equal access to political opportunities. But the Supreme Court ruled that this is only a privilege, not a right. And because it is a privilege, the law through Congress can impose limitations. These limitations can now be found in the Omnibus Election Code and in Comelec Resolution No. 6492.”
The process of disqualifying nuisance candidates is initiated either by the Comelec motu proprio (“on their own”), or upon the filing of a petition for disqualification by an interested person or party within five days from the last day of filing for candidacy. Comelec Resolution No. 6452 specifies that the Comelec can cancel the certificate of candidacy of any person running for president, vice president, senator and party-list on the following grounds:
if the candidate does not possess the constitutional and legal qualifications of the office to which he or she aspires to be elected;
if the candidate filed his or her certificate of candidacy to put the election process in mockery or disrepute;
if the candidate causes confusion among the voters by the similarity of names and surnames with other candidates;
if the candidate has no bona fide intention to run for the office.
A lack of “bona fide intention to run” is demonstrated by a candidate who does not belong to or was not nominated by any registered political party of national constituency; a presidential or vice presidential candidate who does not present a running mate or senatorial candidates; and a candidate who does not have a platform of government and is not capable of waging a nationwide campaign.
It is fairly obvious how candidates with similar names can create confusion among the voters. In 2004 when Melchor Chavez and Francisco Chavez both ran for Senate, the former was disqualified as a nuisance candidate. In 2007 senatorial hopefuls Alan Peter Cayetano and Joselito “Peter” Cayetano both presented themselves and the latter was disqualified. In numerous local elections candidates protest the sudden appearance of rivals with the same last names or nicknames.
The requirement that a candidate must have the machinery and resources to wage a campaign appears to favor the wealthy, the powerful, and the already entrenched. “On the other hand, if you are running for the presidency, how are you going to finance a national campaign?” asks Sarmiento. “You say, ‘On the basis of my dream, I want to be president.’ Fine, but how are you going to travel all around the Philippines to campaign or to finance your advertisements and materials?”
Elections are still held in the real world, and as the Supreme Court observed in Pamatong vs. Comelec, “the greater the number of candidates, the greater the opportunities for logistical confusion, not to mention increased allocation of time and resources in preparation for the election.”
“Much as we’d like to accommodate everyone, we still have to consider the expenses involved,” says Sarmiento. “Too many candidates just make the ballots longer, which results in greater costs. This is another reason the Comelec is discouraging such candidates.”
The Comelec is obliged to be practical, even hard-nosed, in choosing candidates to ensure that elections remain rational, objective, and orderly. However, with the clamor for change in governance gaining strength among the populace, the idea of voting based on political power, economic resources, and popularity is slowly, painfully giving way. In this sense, the “alternative” candidates—those who might be considered nuisance candidates by some—may have the right idea after all.
Atty. Adrian O. Sison (LLB’84) is a member of the national political party Ang Kapatiran (AKP) [angkapatiranparty.org], which was formed in 2004 and is unaffiliated with either major coalition parties. The AKP promotes a platform-based politics aimed at enhancing the common good and promoting virtue and duty, transparency and public accountability, stewardship and good citizenship.1 Sison and two others ran for the Senate under the AKP in 2007; in 2010, the AKP will field its own presidential candidate, Olongapo City Councilor John Carlos de los Reyes.
Atty. Adrian O. Sison
“[A lawyer] said to me, ‘You’ve got some nerve, thinking to field a presidential candidate,’” Sison relates. “I replied, ‘The AKP members and candidates are thinking outside the box. You’re thinking traditionally. You’re thinking in terms of money, popularity and all of that. We’re thinking in terms of alternatives. We want people to have hope in this country. If you feel hopeless, you will think inside the box—that if you have no money and no popularity, then you have no right to run because you will have no chance of winning.’”
During the 2007 elections and in 2001 when he ran for Representative of the 3rd District of Quezon City, Sison went toe to toe with traditional politicians also running for office, which he describes as a “fun and challenging” experience. “Fun because we had a chance to debate with them, to pick their brains, and to show the public that many of them had no platform. Many of them were not prepared.”
Outside the box
Sison admits that convincing people to run for office can be challenging, mainly because of the traditional outlook that no money and no popularity automatically translate into no win. However, the AKP is ready to welcome aspirants with a sincere desire to serve and the guts to buck conventional thinking. “Join the AKP,” he says. “It’s the only party with a genuine platform for the common good that is not based on personality.” In fact, Sison recommends that the Comelec require would-be candidates to present a political platform besides proof that they have the party support to campaign seriously as a way of ensuring that more genuinely competent people get elected.
For his part, Sarmiento advises sincere, well-meaning aspirants aiming for national positions, who might otherwise be declared nuisance candidates, to start at the local level and work their way up. “If you’re serious about being a public servant, then it’s better if you start locally so you can learn how to govern. It’s not just about having a dream or a vision. It’s also about having the skills and competence. If you’re aiming for the highest position in government, then start from the bottom and learn from the process.”
For 2010, Sarmiento urges voters to carefully study the merits and qualifications of a candidate. “Don’t just vote for them because they are good-looking, popular or highly visible in the media. They have to have competence and skills.”
Sison goes a step further: “The electorate should demand that the candidate have a solid platform. This makes the candidate accountable to the people; the electorate knows how he or she, as an elected leader, will stand on major issues and the constitutional provisions that have not been implemented in the last 22 years since our 1987 Constitution was ratified. Don’t vote for the people in power who have destroyed our economy, and those who have not supported the anti-dynasty constitutional provision, the Right to Information Act, the law that prevents monopoly and restraint in trade, that which allowed a high 40 percent of our national budget to go to debt servicing, the plunderers, the election cheats, those involved in the scandals of corruption and anomalous and illegal government contracts. We should vote them out of power.”
With the 2010 elections nearing, the cogs and wheels of the electoral machinery are already gaining momentum. “This is a critical election for our country,” says Sarmiento. “It will bring closure to so many things, so I’m sure this time voters will be more discriminating and discerning.”
“It’s about time we as voters have the courage to vote for good people, even if traditionally we think they will not earn enough votes and therefore cannot win. If everybody thought like that, by default, the traditional politicians will always win,” Sison reiterates. “The voters should think outside the box and say, ‘No, I’m going to make a difference. I will vote for the right people.’”
1 The AKP platform is available at http://www.angkapatiran.org. For inquiries on membership and how to nominate candidates to the AKP, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.