MANILA, Philippines - Wearing a white button-down, a black vest and tie, slacks, and a pair of leather shoes, 65-year-old Arturo Reyes walked out of the door of the Palacio del Gobernador in Intramuros wearing a huge smile on his oval-shaped, wrinkled face.
"I have 98 percent chance of winning this election," Reyes said as he showed his certificate of candidacy (COC) to members of the media and curious onlookers last October 12.
Although unheard of, Reyes, who claimed to be a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, a doctor of medicine, and a United States (US) Navy veteran, boasted that he is "the best presidential candidate there is." He vowed to make the Philippines a US state and to legalize the four seasons especially winter.
If Reyes wants a return of the American colonial rule, 19-year-old Earl Ansay is looking forward to transforming the Philippines if he wins the presidency.
Ansay, who called himself “Kapitan Robotron,” said he decided to seek the highest post in the land after a week of contemplation. He is aware of the 40-year-old minimum age requirement for presidency but believes that something good will happen if people start “thinking outside the box.”
Thinking outside the box for Ansay, it turned out, also meant wearing a black ensemble with matching cape and gloves during his COC filing.
Reyes and Ansay are just two of the 130 presidential hopefuls who filed their COC's to the Comelec this month.
Despite slim chances of winning and the huge likelihood of being declared nuisance candidates, hundreds of unknowns gave it a try, presented alternative, even unconventional visions for the country, and in doing so, claimed their 15 minutes of fame.
It is easy to dismiss these candidates as crackpots who prove that the country’s political system is not something to be taken seriously. Experts, however, believe that they also represent realities that Filipinos have yet to escape from – the disillusionment with insincere politicians and the lack of opportunities to participate in governance.
Randy Dellosa, a psychiatrist and a doctor of clinical psychology, said there are three possible reasons why candidates with odd platforms act the way they do.
He said some of them might actually have psychiatric disorders.
“That's why when we hear their platform, it kind of seems unrealistic, impossible, or outright weird,” Dellosa told philstar.com in an interview.
Others may be acting out of desperation and frustration of the current state of the nation.
“For some of them, they might believe that not being a politician or being an ordinary person might actually be one of their credentials. Although of course, they seem to be shortsighted in the sense that they don't have the machinery,” Dellosa said.
A few of the candidates, meanwhile, may just be out for “fifteen minutes of fame — or shame.”
“It's an experience of this and that. (They can tell) the generations following them that they filed for presidency. It's a bit of desperation and disillusionment,” Dellosa added.
The age of candidates may also have something to do with their motivations.
“The older ones especially those who are beyond 60 are just frustrated already. They feel that they could at least try. At least before they die, they've done something about it… The younger ones came to experience the rush. It’s for the attention,” said Marivic Leaño, a psychology graduate who works as assistant schools division superintendent of the Education department's division in Pasig
"They're probably not doing that as much for the country as they are doing it for themselves.”
The qualifications for president and vice president, as stated in Section 63 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines, are fairly simple. One must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years old, and a resident of the country for at least ten years before the election.
It has been said that it is easy to apply for the highest post in the land than to apply for a job that requires one to be at least high school graduate. The high number of presidential hopefuls has been attributed to the simple qualifications prescribed by the law.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the qualifications make the electoral system more open, democratic and accessible to ordinary people.
"We are also happy with this. It's fun. It's amusing sometimes. But we think that it's worth it in terms of the evolution of the relationship of the individual to the organs of state," Jimenez said.
Bobby Tuazon, director for policy studies of the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), said an election is a democratic exercise so any qualified candidate must be given the chance to run especially those who belong to the masses.
"Who knows some of them may be more qualified than the so-called popular, rich political figures. Some of them may have electoral programs that our country needs," he said.
The filing of COC's is open to qualified individuals but that does not mean that the names of all those who filed will be written on the final ballot. A total of 130 persons are running for president, 19 for vice president and 172 for senator. The Comelec will announce the list of official candidates for the 2016 polls on December 10.
According to Sec. 69 of the Omnibus Election Code, the Comelec may cancel a COC of a candidate if it 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.”
The COC may also be canceled if there are circumstances or acts that clearly demonstrate that the candidate has no bona fide intention to run for the office.
Separating the serious from nuisance candidates is also done for practical reasons. Supreme Court Resolution No. 161872 states that picking out the most qualified candidates will decrease any possibility of confusion due to the number of names listed. It will also decrease the cost for the preparation of the final ballots.
Erickson Calata, who teaches political science at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, said Filipinos tend to view candidates like Reyes and Ansay as hilarious and attention seekers.
"We brand them as attention seekers because they promise the unimaginable and the impossible. They also used names and aliases that sound like those of super heroes while others even presented themselves as divine and almighty," he said.
Calata explained that such candidates are representations of the masses and the middle class but unlike most people, they are bold enough to challenge the system.
“They do represent us, masses and middle class, in an arena where we are truly deprived of opportunity to be voted upon and hold public offices. Unlike most of us, they are those who are brave enough to change this status quo, an electoral system which excluded the masses of the people and dominated exclusively by elites and the powerful,” Calata said.
“The reason why they are too desperate to file their certificate of candidacy is because they think their participation as candidates can be an alternative to this century old elitist- engrossed electoral tradition,” he added.
Jimenez is convinced that some unknowns are trying to join the election because they really believe that they can change the country.
"One of the things that you will really, really be struck by when you listen to these people is their sincerity. They really think they're making a difference," the Comelec spokesperson said.
Dellosa, however, noted that sincerity is not enough to make a difference.
“Sincerity doesn't make a good president. For instance, they can be sincere out of their delusion. They can be sincere out of desperation. Sincerity is different from the ability to run the nation,” he said.
Tuazon said Philippine politics would continue to be dominated by the elite unless an anti-dynasty law is enacted and Comelec is reformed from being a body of beholden presidential appointees to an independent and non-partisan constitutional commission.
“Politics in the Philippines has not matured. It uses modern mechanisms and institutions like election and party system but these are only in form and lack substance given the dominance of feudal politics in a system that is supposed to be modern,” he said.
“This (dominance of elite) is one compelling reason for calling the election system as an unfair playing field, not competitive, and limits access to the poor but definitely qualified candidates."