Nuisance candidates

The Commission on Elections had its hands full last Oct. 12 and 13, receiving the certificates of candidacy of at least 37 individuals vying for the presidency in the 2016 national elections. Jostling with the known and the lesser known were the completely unknown, claiming equal right to run for public office. The term “nuisance candidate” was on every observer’s lips, but no one dared utter it in the premises of the Comelec. Indeed, it has become increasingly difficult to tell the difference between serious and nuisance candidates.

I suppose the evolution of the meaning of “nuisance” itself mirrors this reality. “When English originally acquired it, it meant ‘harm, injury’…” says the Arcade Dictionary of Word Origins. “But gradually it softened to ‘troublesomeness,’ and by the early 19th century it had acquired its present-day connotations of ‘petty annoyance.’” Now that’s interesting: What it’s telling us is that, in its original sense, the word is a more apt description of politicians who have done considerable harm to society than of the clowns and comedians who provide silliness during elections.

Among the early filers were Vice President Jejomar Binay, former Tesda (Technical Education and Skills Development Authority) director general Augusto Syjuco Jr., Romeo John Ygona, a resident of Benguet province who wishes to be listed on the ballot as “Lucifer,” Marita Arilla, a teacher from Surigao del Sur who seeks to establish an absolute monarchy in the country, and Alfredo Tindugan who, claiming a mandate from heaven, is running under the “Divine Mercy Party.”

It would be an arduous task to separate the nuisance candidates from the rest of the pile. How should we define “nuisance”? Comelec Chair Andres Bautista told the media that candidates for national office must show proof of their “ability to mount a national campaign.” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez chimed in and said that one can be considered a nuisance candidate (in the modern sense of causing “petty annoyance”) if he or she makes a mockery of the elections, causes confusion, or demonstrates no genuine intention to run for public office.

I do appreciate the need to trim down the list of candidates if only because a long ballot filled with names will further complicate an already complex process. But, I don’t think any of the criteria cited is easy to define.

What is a fair measure of a presidential candidate’s capacity to mount a national campaign? It cannot be money, for that would disqualify the poor, or sheer physical stamina, for that would exclude the sick and the elderly. It could mean the existence of a nationwide organization or network of volunteers. But, some candidates profess to be allergic to political parties; they precisely hope to raise their corps of volunteers and supporters in the course of the campaign. Should the Comelec prejudge their capability to conduct a nationwide campaign?

How does one make a mockery of a serious constitutional process like a nation’s elections? I believe that if you are facing a mountain of criminal charges and have been the object of a protracted official investigation, the least you could do is offer a detailed answer to these charges rather than merely brush them off as though they were nothing but inventions of your political enemies. Out of respect for the electorate, you would not dare present yourself as a candidate for the nation’s highest office, even while you claim immunity from prosecution by virtue of your present position, in the expectation that all these charges will be rendered moot by your election. To do otherwise, I think, is to make a mockery of the elections.

How does the Comelec intend to prove that someone’s candidacy is merely meant to cause confusion? You can’t disqualify somebody for simply having the same family name as another prominent candidate. To do so would wipe out at least half of the political dynasties in this country. I suppose that is the reason one has also to be able to prove, when challenged, that the intent to run has been in one’s mind for some time, and was not put there by some forces determined to ruin the chances of a legitimate candidate. But, in truth, I find this to be less objectionable than having members of the same family occupy almost all the key positions in their locality.

Thirty-seven people have so far filed their certificates of candidacy for the presidency. There could be more before the filing period ends on Friday. This year there seem to be more of these harmless characters that, in their brief moment of fame, like to entertain us with their strange antics before their names are removed from the list of official candidates.

I view their growing presence in our midst as the revenge of cynical reason against the bizarre turns that our political life has taken. If we cannot see through the absurdity of electing entire families to public office, or of allowing children to succeed their parents or spouses or siblings in what are supposed to be elective offices, then we should not laugh if presidential candidate Marita Arilla is proposing a shift to absolute monarchy.

We reap what we sow. As we have allowed escapist culture to dominate our everyday lives and to fill every pore of our being with its residues, so we ought not to wonder why we can’t get away from the cult of celebrity. No one embodies this cult more fully than the boxer Manny Pacquiao, who navigates the worlds of sports, politics, religion, and show biz with astounding ease. Now a congressman, he has cast a moist eye on a Senate seat in 2016, and the presidency in 2022. Yet no one will dare call him a nuisance candidate.

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