A “nuisance candidate,” to summarize what Section 69 of the Omnibus Election Code says, is someone who files a certificate of candidacy (COC) with the intention of mocking the electoral process or putting it in disrepute; whose name is similar to that of other registered candidates and whom the electorate can therefore mistake for him or her; or who has no real intention to run for the office for which he or she filed a COC.

What is problematic with that definition is the question of intent. During the filing of COCs from October 11 to 17 last week, as preposterous and off-the-wall as the claims and plans of some of those who did file that document were, it didn’t seem as if they intended to mock the process. They were nevertheless ridiculed by the media and the public as nuisance candidates and are likely to be so declared by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) — but apparently not on the basis of their bad intentions but as personalities who did not meet conventional norms of appearance and behavior.

This raises the question of what the standards are that can make the difference between being declared a credible candidate or a nuisance. By common consent, however, it is still the kind of personality the would-be candidate projects publicly that decides credibility, although this seems to apply only to political unknowns.

In contrast, the politically prominent are assumed to be credible, even if they have no announced programs of government or platforms. “Credibility” is implicitly understood to mean being part of a well-known family, and/or a member of an established political party.

Being one or the other, or both, apparently leads the COMELEC to conclude that the candidate has the means to wage a national campaign — that he or she has the funds to pay for campaign ads in the media, to hire poll watchers, and to do whatever else he can to win.

A “credible candidate” is therefore a known or aspiring politician who has the family background, a hundred million or even billions to spend, and the connections, rather than a program of government, good intentions, or even some measure of sanity, that will enable him to campaign for the post he has filed a COC for.

What this amounts to in practice is the enshrinement of money and connections as the principal determinants, of, first of all, being allowed to run for office, and second, being certified as capable of waging a campaign that can lead to an electoral victory. The enforcer of Ferdinand Marcos’ martial law, who’s recently been trying to prettify that outrage, thus qualifies as a “credible candidate” for the Senate — and so does one of Marcos’ own, less than forthright daughters.

Despite the anti-dynasty provision of the Constitution, the purpose of which is to democratize the citizenry’s participation in its own governance, the result is the continuing monopoly over political power of a relative handful of families. There are exceptions that for their rarity only prove the rule.

The intent of the Constitutional provision creating the party list system is precisely to correct this anomaly by encouraging the “proportional representation” of marginalized and underrepresented sectors in the House of Representatives, in which landlords and big bureaucrats have historically been dominant. But it should be apparent to everyone that the system has become the exact opposite of what it was intended to be.

As of last week, some 185 party list formations had manifested their intention to run in the Congressional elections of 2019. Part of a process that began when the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that party list groups that do not represent marginalized sectors may run during the elections that year—and that their nominees need not be members of the sector their party supposedly represents — the system has become another way for established parties, traditional politicians and the far from marginalized and underrepresented to get into the House and to prevent those groups that are truly representative of those sectors from being elected.

The SC ruling was issued despite the provision of the Party List Law (Republic Act 7941) specifying “labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers and professionals” as marginalized sectors whose participation in governance is necessary to make representation in the House “proportional” (meaning somewhat democratic).

The victory of a party list group supposedly representing security guards whose first nominee was a son of former President, now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was among the first indicators of the system’s rapid transformation into just another means of assuring the dominance of the dynasties and their surrogates in government. In 2016, the first nominee of a party list group that won two seats in the House was a prominent businessman, while its second nominee was a marketing consultant and the business manager of boxer, now Senator Manny Pacquiao. And who has not heard of the non-OFW who refused to remove his shoes at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport security gate whose party list group is supposedly committed to protecting and advancing the interests of overseas Filipino workers?

For 2019, a clutch of dynasts are among the most prominent nominees of newly-created as well as established party list groups, some of whose kin are at the same time running for the Senate, for mayor, and for governor under the major political parties.

While this is happening, the anti-democratic argument that only the “educated” can intelligently govern that was so obviously behind the 2013 Supreme Court ruling has been revived by Senator Richard Gordon. A certain political science professor is also proposing the passage of a law or an amendment to RA 7941 that will require a college degree of every candidate for public office.

Both Gordon and the latter not only ignore the sorry record of the supposedly educated (most of them lawyers) in governing this country, which, over the last seven decades of their rule, has become even more impoverished, and is now the economic and development laggard of Asia. Neither have they ever understood that it is those most affected by the problems of the underrepresented sectors of which they are members who best understand them and who can therefore craft appropriate solutions.

Contrary to what the media, much of the public and the COMELEC think, the real nuisance candidates are the dynasts and their surrogates who have no program of government, and no inkling of what they’ll do once elected except self-aggrandizement.

It is they, after all, who have inflicted upon this country their incompetent, corrupt, and decades-long dominance over government at the expense of its development and the well-being of its citizens. Such aspirants for public office as the musician who wants to develop Filipino rock music, or the once-perennial candidate for the presidency who wanted to air-condition the whole of Manila, were at least honest and forthright.

The really credible candidates, on the other hand, are those whose track records prove that they have this country and its people’s best interests at heart, and that they stand for principles rather than for the self-serving goal of advancing their personal, familial and/ or class interests. What the elections in this country need are entirely new definitions of “nuisance” and “credible” candidates not only during the filing of COCs but also on Election Day itself if the hopes of the many for a government that will finally address their demands for a just society will ever prosper.

First published in BusinessWorld.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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