May 21, 2019
SPECULATION was rife prior to this year’s midterm elections that Zamboanga del Norte Gov. Roberto Uy might lose his bid for reelection.
The reason? Some smart political strategists allegedly linked to his political rivals fielded a candidate with the same name and even the same nickname as the governor. The ploy made political observers take a closer look at the battle for the gubernatorial post of the province. It appeared many wanted to find out if this ancient technique of confusing and misleading voters in a local election would still work today.
By most indications, the answer is a resounding “No.” The Zamboanga del Norte elections showed that voters will go out of their way to express their true will despite a determined bid on the part of some political tricksters to thwart them. As we write this column, the real “Roberto Uy” — the incumbent governor — is leading his closest rival, congressman Bullet Jalosjos, by some 6,000 votes, with most of the votes already counted.
Here’s the interesting thing: the other “Roberto Uy” — the incumbent’s namesake who was later disqualified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which declared him a “nuisance candidate still managed to garner a sizable vote. As of the latest count, the nuisance candidate had a little over 20,000 votes to his name.
That number of votes is significant. That would be the total number of voters of a small municipality. In a close fight, that number could decide who wins and who loses. That number also indicates the power of confusion. It’s clear that the sole purpose of fielding a namesake is to take away votes from the legitimate candidate by misleading voters.
This brings us back to the nagging question which surfaced during the campaign period — did not the Comelec, right from the start, realize that the namesake was a nuisance candidate? In its belated resolution, the Comelec said the other “Roberto Uy” had no visible means to fund his campaign.
According to locals, the guy was a scavenger recruited by some group and placed in the payroll of a municipal government. The Comelec also said the incumbent governor’s namesake had no previous experience or didn’t have the ability to perform the duties and functions of the office for which he intended to run.
The malicious intent of the scheme became even more obvious as there were tarpaulins and leaflets bearing the name of the incumbent but with the ballot number of the nuisance candidate, clearly aimed at confusing the voters even more. Undoubtedly, the fielding of a nuisance candidate was a well-planned ploy at deception.
Observers and voters who detected the scheme could only shake their heads in disbelief. They asked, did the Comelec, wittingly or unwittingly, allow itself to be an accomplice in the ploy? Why was it not quick to detect the scheme? Why did it allow the nuisance candidate’s name to be included in the ballot?
To this day, these questions remain in the minds of baffled observers. Their doubts are only compounded by the apparent foot-dragging on the part of the Comelec to proclaim the gubernatorial candidate who has already garnered the most number of votes. As of press time, Governor Uy is reportedly still begging the Comelec to proclaim him as the victor in the gubernatorial polls.
Governor Uy can take care of himself. What concerns us is the plight of the 20,000-plus voters who voted for the nuisance candidate “Uy” in the ballot. What happens to these votes now?
If memory serves me right, once official ballots are printed, the votes of the disqualified bets like nuisance candidate Uy will be considered as stray votes. In effect, the Comelec practically disenfranchised the 20,000-plus voters who intended to vote for the legitimate contender but whose votes were counted under the nuisance candidate’s.
So, isn’t the Comelec making voters pay the price for its inaction? Does this not amount to thwarting the will of the electorate?
These questions from the public may portray Comelec unfairly. But the poll body has to admit voting issues like these are valid and inevitable. The number of votes cast in favor of a nuisance candidate is staggering — 20,000-plus. It is unlikely that 20,000-plus voters in that province would have deliberately opted to vote for someone whom the Comelec adjudged as having neither the ability nor intention to perform the duties of the office for which he was a candidate.
Perhaps it is time that the Comelec reexamine its procedures and processes in screening legitimate candidates. The public is not asking the Comelec to disqualify scavengers like the nuisance “Uy” from running for public office.
Rather, what the public wants is for the Comelec to adopt a process and to act promptly in order to prevent nuisance candidates from getting their names printed on the ballot in the first place, such as when a scavenger like the nuisance “Uy” runs for public office for the sole purpose of sowing confusion among voters and misleading them.
It’s a good thing the nuisance candidate ploy flopped. The legitimate candidate in Zamboanga del Norte emerged victorious.
Nevertheless, the fact that some 20,000-plus voters’ votes went to waste should prick the sensibilities of the concerned officials in Comelec, which failed to act quickly enough to stop the nuisance candidate ploy.
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