Anyone can be president

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Greg B. Macabenta

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The late great comedian Dolphy had the most sensible response to the question, why he wasn’t considering running for president. Was it because he was afraid that he might lose?

“No,” Dolphy reportedly replied. “It’s because I’m afraid I might win and I won’t know what to do.”

Sadly, not everyone is as pragmatic as Dolphy. Rumors are rife that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte wants to succeed her father as president. And the other rumor is that Senator-boxer Manny Pacquiao plans to contest that and run for the highest office himself.

And why not?

Qualifications for a job in a private firm are more stringent than those for president. Article VII, Section 2 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution merely requires the following: (a) Must be a natural-born citizen of the Philippines; (b) must be a registered voter; (c) must be able to read and write; (d) must be a least 40 years old on the day of the election; and (e) must have been a resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years.

Just to clarify: being born cesarean does not disqualify you. You are still considered natural-born under the Constitution.

Of course, there are other requirements that the Constitution has prudently not listed such as having a private army, having billions in the bank, and having a battalion of online trolls.

There are other presumed qualifications such as honesty and integrity but Sara Duterte recently declared those irrelevant.

In a media interview, President Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter defended her earlier assertion that all politicians lie (she was telling the truth). She insisted that there is no provision in the Constitution that prohibits liars from running for president.

Sara (and, perhaps, her father) may not have heard about “moral turpitude,” defined in Bouviers Law Dictionary as “everything which is done contrary to justice, honesty, modesty, or good morals.” The term, according to Google, was first introduced in 1901 in Act 190, otherwise known as the Code of Civil Actions and Special proceedings. It has been applied to cases involving the disqualification of members of the bar and those running for any elective position.

In other words, moral turpitude is the opposite of good manners and right conduct. The trouble is, in the Duterte administration, good manners and right conduct have been redefined. Thus, maybe Sara is right. In the current moral environment, liars can run for president or any elective office. So can thieves, plunderers, convicted felons and killers.

In any case, Pacquiao won’t be the only pugilist to want to throw his hat in the presidential ring. Oscar de la Joya, whom Pacquiao TKO’d some years ago, believes he can KO President Donald Trump in 2020 – assuming that Trump does not finally get the wall he deserves. Meaning a prison wall.

According to De la Joya, if Arnold Schwarzenegger could be elected governor of California and a reality TV show host like Trump could become president, why not an Olympic gold medalist like him?

In Ukraine, former heavyweight champion Vitali Klitschko also seriously considered running for president but decided instead to support the candidacy of businessman Petro Poroshenko. Klitschko was a member of Parliament.

If Dolphy had decided to run for president, he would not have been the first comedian to do so. In the U.S., Gracie Allen, wife and comic foil of George Burns, ran as a nominee of the Surprise Party which had a kangaroo as mascot and the slogan, “It’s in the bag.” This was at the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidential run.

Unlike then President Fidel Ramos who had Erap Estrada as his vice-president, Allen reportedly refused to have a vice-presidential running mate because she did not want to tolerate any vice in her administration.

In the 2012 U.S. election, TV comic Roseanne Barr actually filed her candidacy for president with the Federal Election Commission as candidate of the Green Tea Party, As part of her platform, she vowed to send the bankers of Wall Street to re-education camps or have them executed by beheading.

Another American comedian, Pat Paulsen, who made a name in the Smothers Brothers TV series, filed his candidacy for president in 1968 because “the job has a good pension plan and I’ll get a lot of money when I retire.”

At least, Paulsen was honest about his motivation, which may be why he came in second to Bill Clinton in the New Hampshire Democratic Primary. Most candidates claim to want to rid the country of corruption and promote national progress and development and all that motherhood stuff. The truth, they just want to provide for their children and grandchildren and great grandchildren and….

But there is one qualification that only one presidential candidate proudly claimed to have: an official clearance from the Philippine Mental Hospital. Pascual Racuyal.

About Racuyal, historian Ambeth Ocampo wrote:

“Racuyal made history by vainly challenging all presidents from Manuel L. Quezon in the Commonwealth elections of 1935 to Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino in the 1986 snap election. He was declared a nuisance candidate only in the 1986 election even if he signed his certificate of candidacy with a quill, using his own blood as ink. One of his campaign promises in 1969 and 1986 was that he would govern via remote control or satellite, whatever that meant.

“In 1969 the Manila Times reported on Racuyal challenging President Marcos and Sen. Sergio Osmeña to a 12-hour debate in Plaza Miranda. Ignored, he then threatened to deliver a six-hour speech in Plaza Miranda, which promised to be the longest in modern Philippine history! It was also reported that when the election returns from Rizal province came in, Racuyal actually placed third after Marcos and Osmeña with ‘79 solid votes.’

“In 1952 he invited Ramon Magsaysay, Arsenio Lacson, Lorenzo Tañada and Trinidad Legarda to be his running mate as vice president. Naturally, all of them refused…”

There is only one other perennial presidential candidate that I know of and that is former San Francisco lawyer Ely Velez Pamatong. Pamatong once pursued an appealing cause, which was for the right to US citizenship of Filipinos born while the Philippines was under US rule, just like Puerto Rico. He ran for president in the 2004 and 2010 presidential elections, although the Commission on Elections declared him a nuisance candidate. But Pamatong has already gone ahead and proclaimed himself president of the Philippines.

Indeed, it takes all kinds of characters to run for president. There used to be really qualified candidates vying for the highest post in the Philippines. But ever since the dismantling of the two-party system, the field has been left wide open for anyone who meets the minimum qualifications.

In fact, our former house help, Ping, could qualify. After we enrolled her in adult education, she learned how to read and write. She now has all the other qualifications mandated by the Constitution.

All she needs are a few billions, a private army and a battalion of social media trolls.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.