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Opinion

Candidate Bato

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

There are 97 people who have filed certificates of candidacy for the 2022 presidential race. The number is not unusual; for the 2016 elections, 130 people filed COCs for president.

The Commission on Elections will have to consider each of the COCs to separate the serious from the nuisance candidates. In the time of COVID, sifting through that long list will be an added burden to the Comelec.

Already, COVID lockdowns have set back the Comelec’s preparation timetable, with voter registration extended by three weeks.

To discourage nuisance candidates, the Comelec should consider imposing fines upon disqualification, or collecting hefty filing fees, for aspirants for elective posts. The higher the position, the greater the filing fee or fine.

After all, the Omnibus Election Code frowns on persons who make a mockery of the electoral process or who have no “bona fide intent” to pursue their candidacies.

Some of the 97 presidential aspirants are repeat filers, so declaring them as nuisance and junking their COCs will be easy for the Comelec. It estimates that 95 percent of filers will be declared as nuisance candidates. But it’s still additional work, and the poll body has enough on its plate as it is.

The Comelec’s task becomes complicated when the person tagged as a nuisance bet is a suspected placeholder who is fielded by a major political party.

Even candidates who don’t belong to a major party, but who have gained some national name recall, cannot be easily dismissed as nuisance bets.

What does the Comelec think, for example, of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s former defense chief and national security adviser Norberto Gonzales, fielded by the party that he chairs, the Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas? Or President Duterte’s former spokesman and foreign affairs undersecretary Ernesto Abella, who is running as an independent?

Labor leader Leody de Guzman of the Partido Lakas ng Masa, who is unfazed by his failed Senate bid in 2019, is also gunning for the nation’s highest post.

*      *      *

And what does the Comelec think of the candidacy of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa?

Duterte’s loyal former police chief bristles at being tagged as a nuisance candidate. He’s pursuing his presidential bid, Dela Rosa insists… unless Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio changes her mind about reelection and becomes the administration standard bearer.

You have to hand it to Senator Bato: the standard bearer (for now) of a faction of the ruling PDP-Laban deserves an A for candor.

This was manifested as soon as he filed his COC on the last day, Oct. 8. Reacting to the widespread surprise, he cheerfully told reporters that he himself was amazed when he received a call just two hours before closing time for the filing.

Facing us on One News’ “The Chiefs” last Thursday, Dela Rosa repeated his story that he was playing with his grandchild in Cavite when he got the call from the PDP-Laban (Cusi faction) secretariat. Undersecretary Astravel Pimentel-Naik told him that he had to file his COC for president at the Sofitel.

Naik handed the cell phone to Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, who explained that the party needed someone “to continue the Duterte legacy” – fighting illegal drugs, crime, corruption and terrorism, sustaining Build Build Build and continuing the pandemic response and economic recovery programs. “Ikaw na,” Cusi reportedly told Dela Rosa.

Senator Bato stressed he was never told that he would be a placeholder for Inday Sara, although he admitted that “at the back of my mind” it was possible.

In case Mayor Sara refuses to run, isn’t Dela Rosa scared about losing the race?

His reply: “I’ve been to so many wars – against the NPA, against the terrorists. Puro bala yung hinaharap ko. Eh ito pang eleksiyon na ito katatakutan ko ito? I can deal with the challenge. I can survive. Alam ko kaya kong labanan itong eleksiyon na ito. Hindi ako takot.”

What if he is disqualified by the Comelec? He says that even if he’s no lawyer, ruling on “bona fide intent” to pursue a candidacy is highly debatable. And he promises “a big legal battle” in case he is disqualified, as he vows to fight for the truth.

“The truth is I have a really sincere intention of becoming the president of this country,” he told us, pointing to the filing of his COC as solid proof.

*      *      *

As the administration standard bearer, of course his platform is continuity, in all aspects of governance including the pandemic response and economic recovery. He wants economic Charter change, and an end to party-list representation for communist front organizations. Tokhang will continue, but with cops required to wear body cameras to prevent abuses. Local governments, which will be getting a larger share of national taxes in 2022, can handle drug rehabilitation.

Does he actually believe he might win? Dela Rosa expresses confidence that his ratings will improve as the campaign progresses.

In fact, with his cheerful personality, and with the full backing of the administration, Dela Rosa might in fact put up a decent fight.

He would not have filed his candidacy, he says, if he didn’t think he has no chance of winning. And if Inday Sara refuses to run, he does not intend to slide down for anyone, such as Duterte ally Bongbong Marcos.

“Nakakahiya naman. I am the standard bearer of the ruling party. Then basta-basta na lang ako aatras? Mali naman siguro yun,” he told us.

What if this splits the administration vote? “I don’t care,” as long as the true will of the people is upheld, he said.

*      *      *

He clarifies that his selection went through a process; he was the second choice as PDP-Laban standard bearer during the party convention, after Bong Go. The third was Sen. Francis Tolentino.

“Hindi naman out of thin air lumabas ang pangalan ni Bato,” he said; he has a propensity to refer to himself in the third person.

As for corruption, he says he will tap as consultants retired officials known to have fattened themselves through graft, but with no evidence to pin them down, to help him craft an anti-corruption policy. Seriously.

He will lead by example, he vows. Unlike Duterte, Dela Rosa says he will release his official statement of assets, liabilities and net worth since he has nothing to hide.

Dela Rosa is also supporting proposals to ban candidate substitutions.

“Hindi naman sasakit ang tiyan ko diyan,” he chuckles. “Tapos na ako pag inamend natin yan.”

And he’s not losing sleep over defeat at the polls. “Manalo, matalo, OK ako.”

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