The Commission on Elections (Comelec) supports a bill that seeks to impose a hefty monetary penalty against nuisance candidates, but one watchdog is worried that the proposal would further tilt the playing field against underprivileged Filipinos aspiring to run for public office.
“We support the imposition of the fine of P100,000,” Director Maria Norina Tangaro-Casingal of the Comelec Law Department told senators during an electoral reforms panel hearing on Wednesday, October 27.
“We also would like to propose that those declared nuisance candidates be disqualified from running for two successive elections,” she added.
Casingal was referring to House Bill No. 9557, which the Senate committee tackled on Wednesday. That proposal, which aims to “provide an efficient procedure for declaring a nuisance candidate,” hurdled the House on final reading in August.
The Omnibus Election Code does not impose a fine against nuisance candidates, defined as those who filed their candidacy to put the election process in mockery, or those exhibiting acts which demonstrate a lack of bona fide intention to run for office.
Under HB 9557, the poll body has the power to impose a fine of not less than P100,000 on a nuisance candidate “and any other person named in the verified petition and found to have conspired with or induced the candidate to file such a certificate.”
Such political aspirants may also be held liable for an election offense, which is punishable with jail time of at least one year under the Omnibus Election Code.
Loose change for the rich?
Discussions on penalizing nuisance candidates are happening as groups question the certificate of candidacy filed by Senator Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa for president.
Dela Rosa, running under the President Rodrigo Duterte’s party, PDP-Laban, previously said he was open to give way to Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte if she makes a buzzer-beater move for the presidency.
Critics have called him a “placeholder” to the President’s daughter ahead of the November 15 substitution deadline, and should therefore be removed from the presidential race for being a nuisance candidate.
For watchdog Kontra Daya, a P100,000-fine may not be enough to discourage benchwarmers from well-funded political parties from doing what they want.
The group said that at worst, it will put impoverished candidates at a disadvantage .
“It will only punish well-meaning, impoverished candidates who want to make a difference and would only depend on small donations to conduct their campaign,” Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao told Rappler on Wednesday.
“It only highlights the elitist nature of politics as no amount of fines would prevent the rich and powerful from continuously making a mockery of the law,” he added.
The Legal Network For Truthful Elections (Lente) also said the P100,000-fine is “too harsh,” even as it acknowledged the problem of nuisance candidates during elections.
“We propose a graduated penalty system to address this problem. First offense, warning and cancellation of certificate of candidacy (COC); second offense, disqualification to run for public office in the next three succeeding elections and cancellation of COC; third offense, fine penalty (P100,000), cancellation of COC, and perpetual disqualification to run for public office,” Lente executive director Ona Caritos told Rappler on Wednesday.
The National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) meanwhile recognized that a fine could be an additional deterrent to “those who intend to mock or game the filing of candidacy,” but added that a robust screening procedure must be in place.
“This should be supplemented with due diligence and exhaustive but fair screening protocols to identify nuisance candidates,” Namfrel secretary-general Eric Alvia told Rappler.
“For instance, qualify that capacity to mount a campaign should be revisited and reviewed,” he added.
Up to 2019, the Comelec had used a “financial capability” test in identifying nuisance candidates, spokesman James Jimenez wrote in a newspaper column in July 2020.
But a legal challenge prompted the Supreme Court to issue a ruling that said that what the Comelec was doing “falls short of what is constitutionally permissible.”
This year’s filing of COCs saw 97 aspirants for president, 29 for vice president, and 176 for senator.
Jimenez had said that up to 95% of the names in the list may be declared nuisance candidates. – Rappler.com