When 75-year-old presidential aspirant Alfredo Tindugan filed his certificate of candidacy last month, he came an hour before the official start of proceedings.
When he again arrived at the Commission on Election offices in Manila Tuesday morning, this time for a preliminary conference that would determine whether or not he and 44 other aspirants were nuisance candidates, Tindugan was again an hour early.
Accompanied by supporters who believe him to be the "chosen one," Tindugan patiently waited for his turn to face the clerk.
Once called on to speak, he said, "Ang akin pong sasabihin ay bakit naman ako itinuturing na nuisance candidate?"
He went on to recite the Preamble of the Constitution, pointing out that his "divine government" platform -- for which he invoked the Holy Spirit -- abided by the preamble.
"Ang isinusulong ko 'yung hangarin ng taumbayan, hindi sa aking sarili," he explained. "Tutal ang taumbayan ang humahatol, aking pakiusap na ilagay ang pangalan ko sa balota."
Tindugan was among the 20 aspirants for national posts whose cases were assigned to the Comelec's First Division. Out of this first batch, only nine appeared before the clerk of the Commission, while two others withdrew their candidacies.
Another 25 candidates were supposed to appear before the Second Division in the afternoon. Only nine showed up.
These 45 aspirants were among 266 candidacies the Comelec law department characterized as "nuisance."
Those who fail to appear before these preliminary conferences will lose their chance to defend their candidacies. According to the rules, the petition "shall be deemed submitted for resolution" when they fail to show up.
However, during a press briefing, Comelec chair Andres Bautista clarified, "Wala pa kaming dine-declare na nuisance candidate."
The Omnibus Election Code defines a nuisance candidate as one who files a COC:
- to put the election process in mockery or disrepute;
- to cause confusion among the voters by the similarity of the names of the registered candidates or by other circumstances; or
- acts that clearly demonstrate that the candidate has no bona fide intention to run for office for which the COC has been filed.
Bautista said that to determine whether or not a candidate was a nuisance candidate, the poll body will have to look into an aspirant's track record, as well as if he or she will be able to mount a nationwide campaign amid "certain practical realities."
According to Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, the preliminary conference was held as "an opportunity for the candidate to mark his evidence."
"You present your evidence, then it will be submitted and the division will decide on every petition," Lim said.
He also denied claims that what they sent were "template letters," saying that every petition and summon was made depending on the law department's assessment of a candidacy.
"Not all petitions are the same. For example, may candidate na may previous declaration na nuisance candidate siya before, so that could be a ground. There are also other issues like tumakbo ka pero ito lang ang nakuha mong number of votes, or wala kang clear platform of government," he said. "Hindi 'yan lump sum."
However, Bautista interjected, "Pero may mga pare-pareho rin diyan."
Commissioner Luie Tito Guia added, "We're not against those without money. Even if you don't have money, but you have a network, an organization that will help you launch your campaign, or kilala ka, then that's capability."
In his manifestation, Tindugan said he could, in fact, conduct a nationwide campaign, especially given the reach of social meda.
Asked, however, if he was on Twitter or Facebook, the father of seven - silvered hair cut just above the shoulders, admitted that he was not.
Meanwhile another presidential aspirant who appeared on Tuesday, Ephraim Defiño, claimed that there was a petition against his candidacy because the Comelec law department did not think he had the money for a national campaign.
Appearing before the clerk in a red polo shirt, red trousers, a beige coat, and a brown cowboy hat, he dismissed the supposed lack of financial resources as a "minor" concern.
"I have been a businessman for 20 years,” Defiño said, in an attempt to explain his ability to raise money. “I have three business organizations in Mindanao, and many plantations of coffee."
He added that he was a "very experienced opposition leader since the Marcos regime."
The first of the preliminary conferences saw some confusion, even among aspirants, over receipt of the summon and petition, their capability to answer, and the period during which they could answer.
The coming days will see more appearances -- or non-appearance -- of other aspirants. Those who will get past the divisions will likely make it on the ballot, in the final list of candidates due December 10. — DVM, GMA News