Money to run
IS WEALTH an official requirement for a candidate for national office? The obvious answer is No, and in fact financial capacity to mount a national campaign is not included in the Constitution’s list of basic qualifications for the office of president, vice president, or senator. But the reality is a national candidacy is qualitatively different from running for local office. While it is possible to win office as mayor or representative purely on what election tacticians call the ground war—even a candidate without funds can mobilize a small army of family, friends and other unpaid volunteers to campaign in a municipality or a district—it is almost impossible to win national office without the resources to wage what is called the air war: television and radio advertisements, aired according to a certain frequency.
It is in recognition of the limits of modern-day elections, then, that the Commission on Elections is moving to cut the list of presidential candidates from a record high of 130 to a more manageable five. The financial capacity to mount a national campaign, or at least the ability to raise funds for such an expensive operation, must be a factor that distinguishes a viable aspirant from a nuisance candidate.
In this nation of lawyers (but not necessarily laws), “nuisance candidate” has an exact definition: a person whose certificate of candidacy “has been filed to put the election process in mockery or disrepute or to cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of the names of the registered candidates or by 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.”
Where does the Comelec law department’s motion to declare Martin Diño of PDP-Laban a nuisance candidate—now moot because of Diño’s withdrawal—fall in the Omnibus Election Code’s list of categories? We suppose the truest fit would be “no bona fide intention to run”—because Diño, a former barangay chair in Quezon City, had not even so much as suggested before the week set aside for the filing of certificates of candidacy that he would run for president, and because he named Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte as substitute. This was a transparent ploy for the political party to keep the door open for the reluctant Duterte, under the principle of substitution.
The Inquirer report noted the three reasons the Comelec legal unit offered to justify Diño’s disqualification. “The Comelec law department, in recommending that Diño be disqualified, said he had put the election process in mockery, had no bona fide intention to run for office, and had not presented proof that he could sustain the financial rigors of a nationwide campaign.”
The PDP-Laban president, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, criticized the Comelec recommendation as “matapobre” (anti-poor). “With this case of Martin Diño, the Comelec should review its process [for weeding out nuisance candidates]. It’s too arbitrary, it’s too anti-participatory. Even people from the middle class want to serve the country.”
He has a point. If the Comelec legal affairs department had simply stayed with precedent, it would have been difficult to assail the recommendation. Diño was obviously creating an opening for Duterte, and was vulnerable to charges of mocking the election process and displaying no real intention to contest the presidency. The addition of “sustaining the financial rigors” as an added justification—that’s where the issue lies.
Pimentel rightly pointed to the existence of PDP-Laban itself as proof of financial capacity to wage a national campaign. His own father ran for vice president in 1992 with a lot of hope and a lot less money. He could have also pointed to the counter-example of someone like boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, who certainly has the money to fund one national campaign after another, and yet whose performance in Congress raises unsettling questions about an elected official’s responsibility toward his constituents.
But Pimentel’s outrage was undermined by his own party’s transparent attempt to keep Duterte in the running. If the PDP-Laban were really serious about placing its political brand into consideration, why didn’t Pimentel—elected but cheated in 2007, reelected in 2013—throw his substitutable hat into the ring? That would have allowed the party to put its money where its mouth is.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.