Malilong: Dealing with nuisance candidates

Frank Malilong
·3 min read

Ileana Garcia was a candidate for public office. As the campaign wore on, she began to realize that hers was an uphill battle against her opponent, Jose Rodriguez, the heavily favored incumbent.

So did her supporters. One of them, Frank Artiles, decided to take matters into his own hands and sent a Facebook message to a friend. “Call me,” he told Alexis Rodriguez. “I have a question for you.”

Over the phone later in the day, Artiles was able to convince Alexis Rodriguez, upon the promise of money, to run for the same office that his candidate, Garcia, and Jose Rodriguez also sought. Two Rodriguezes were on the ballot versus one Garcia.

As expected, Alexis lost, garnering only 6,382 of the more than 215,000 votes cast. But so did Jose by a mere 32 votes. Garcia scored an upset over her heavily favored opponent, thanks to Alexis. Artiles’s ploy worked and he promptly paid his spoiler candidate the reward (the equivalent of P2.5 million) that he promised.

Familiar? Yes. So familiar in fact that it is not supposed to be news anymore. Except that this did not happen in the Philippines but in the USA, in Florida to be more specific.

If it’s any relief to us, neither Artiles nor Alexis has Filipino roots. They’re Latin Americans. But they must have learned from us. We have become experts in this — and all — election shenanigans.

We even have the perfect name for people like Alexis, whom the Americans referred to merely as a sham candidate. Our description is not only more accurate but colorful: a nuisance. He is someone, according to our election laws, who has neither the resources nor the intention to mount a serious campaign and whose candidacy only brings dishonor and disrepute to the electoral process.

But there’s the rub. Artiles and Alexis were both arrested and face a lengthy prison term for violating campaign finance laws. Unlike us, Florida apparently does not have a specific law punishing nuisance candidates and their cohorts so they hit the cheats with the overarching provisions on campaign finance laws instead.

Now tell me, have we ever heard of anyone having been charged in court for violating the nuisance candidate provision of our Election Code? Never. And yet every election, we have so many candidates who have absolutely no chance of winning, who are running because they have been paid to do so in order to sow confusion among the voters, taking advantage of the fact that they have the same family name as the payor’s opponent.

What usually happens is that the Comelec will disqualify the nuisance and credit his votes to the legitimate one. But again as usually happens, the disqualification order comes too late so that by the time the votes had been properly credited and the bonafide candidate is proclaimed winner, very little shall have been left of his term.

Cases like that of Artiles and Rodriguez are very rare in the US because the cheats know that they can — and will be — brought to jail. Here, we’re only good at writing laws.