MOST of the 130 applicants to the presidency and 29 to the vice presidency for the 2016 elections are clearly making a mockery of the election process but they are still allowed to file their Certificates of Candidacy (CoCs) because of the constitutional guarantee for equal access to opportunities for public service.
The requirements under Article VII of the Constitution to be qualified as president or vice president of the Philippines are easier than applying for a menial office job that requires clearances from the barangay, police and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), among others.
To run for president, one has to be a natural born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years old on election day, and a resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years immediately preceding the election. No barangay clearance is required. No police clearance. No NBI clearance. No academic Transcript of Records or diploma. No bank certification of deposits.
These are the same qualifications for anyone seeking a post in Congress, except that the age requirement is lower at 35 for the Senate and 25 for the House of Representatives.
The disqualifications are final conviction for crimes with minimum jail term of one year, dismissal from government service, and insanity, as declared by a competent authority.
Ordinary job applicants won’t be entertained if they lacked any of the documentary requirements.
It is even more difficult to apply for a passport, or a visa. Visa applicants have to submit bank certification of deposits that would show they have the money to spend even for an all-expense sponsored trip abroad. Otherwise, they will not be accommodated.
James Jimenez, spokesperson of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), said that the number of CoC filers for president was a record high at 130. In the 2010 elections, there were 90, but only 10 passed Comelec screening.
Jimenez said such show of diversity and, at times, absurdity, is not a reflection of an electoral system gone out of control, but a manifestation that the country’s electoral system is robust and democratic.
I don’t believe that giving 15-minutes of fame to either unknown individuals or habitual nuisance candidates is not a healthy democratic exercise. It subjects these persons to public ridicule and humiliation, rather than respect their democratic right.
In a 2004 resolution, the Supreme Court (SC) clarified that running for public office is a privilege, not a right.
In its decision on the case involving lawyer Elly Pamatong, the Supreme Court said in Resolution No. 161872, dated April 13, 2004, that he could not invoke his constitutional right to equal access to opportunities for public office, particularly to seek the presidency. “There is none,” the SC said. In the case, Pamatong contested the Comelec ruling that declared him a nuisance candidate in the 2004 presidential elections.
“What is recognized is merely a privilege subject to limitations imposed by law,” the court said, explaining that this was the intent of the Constitution’s original framers. Further, it said the constitutional mandate was a general guideline, not a “judicially enforceable constitutional right.”
To ensure that the equal access clause is not violated, the key is to apply the limitations “to everybody equally without discrimination,” the high tribunal said. “Equality is not sacrificed as long as the burdens engendered by the limitations are meant to be borne by anyone who is minded to file a certificate of candidacy.”
The Comelec itself said in Resolution No. 9551 on October 30, 2012: “The Senate has no place for jokers and harlequins. More importantly, we are not convinced of their bona fide intention to run, except to put the election process in mockery or disrepute.”
Resolution No. 9551 was an order that declared 50 senatorial aspirants as nuisance candidates, including singer Victor Wood, for the 2013 mid-term election.
If the Comelec said that the Senate has no place for joker and harlequins, all the more it should be stringent in screening the applicants for president and vice president.
Because of the increasing number of nuisance candidates for national elective positions, the next Congress and the Comelec should sit down and craft amendments to the Omnibus Election Code to at least make the application requirements to the presidency and the vice presidency equal to the requirements for ordinary job applications.
The Comelec applies only Section 69 of the Omnibus Election Code against nuisance candidates after they have filed their CoCs, and not as a pre-qualification requirement.
That is why Daniel Magtira, who had listed Kris Aquino as his spouse, has been able to file his CoC for president in the 2004 and 2010 presidential elections, and in the 2001, 2007, 2013 and 2016 senatorial elections. The Comelec repeatedly disqualified him as a nuisance candidate.
Even candidates affiliated with established political parties can be nuisances. Take the case of Melchor Chavez of Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) who ran for senator in 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 elections, but disqualified for being a nuisance.
The Comelec screens the CoCs and accommodates petitions for disqualification within five days from the last day of filing of COCs. Public hearings are held for the aspirants to explain their platform of government and prove that they have the capacity and capability to mount a nationwide campaign.
Section 69 of the Omnibus Election Code defines a nuisance candidate as someone who has filed a CoC with the intention of: putting the election process in mockery or disrepute; cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of the names of the registered candidates; and other circumstances or acts which clearly demonstrate 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.
Before the May 2013 elections, the Comelec raised the idea of requiring aspirants to post a P1-million “candidate bond” to discourage nuisance filers. Nothing had happened on the proposal. Perhaps it is about time to think about it seriously and have it legislated before the next election becomes yet another circus.
There was also Senate Bill No. 2930 that classified as an election offense the filing of COC only to solicit money, obtain profit or any other consideration or to file one’s candidacy without genuine intentions to run for public office.
One good reason given by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City to refuse pressures from his supporters to seek the presidency was money. In some of his interviews, he was candid enough to say that he did not want to present himself to anyone as a candidate and ask for campaign funds.
In a lecture at Harvard University in 1999, former US president Gerald Ford said the worst that could happen is to have elections of candidates without platform, fielded by parties without principles, hiring consultants without convictions, and for elections without voters.
What could be worse than that? How candidates, crooks, and clowns could buy their way to power, if voters would let them.
The result of any election is still in the hands of the voters, given a reliable automation voting and counting system.