[PHOTO AT LEFT: DISQUALIFIED: Businessman Eddie Gil is cooled by an aide outside the Commission on Elections main office in Intramuros, Manila after the poll body booted him out of the presidential race yesterday. - AP> ]

MANILA, March 17, 2004  (STAR) By Jose Aravilla - And now there are five.

Presidential race tail-ender Eddie Gil — who had promised to make every Filipino a millionaire — was disqualified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday from the May 10 polls for being a nuisance candidate.

The Comelec’s three-member second division voted unanimously to disqualify Gil, who claims to have $10 billion in assets, for lacking the financial muscle and political machinery.

It declared Gil, 60, a "nuisance candidate by virtue of the undeniable fact that his certificate of candidacy has been filed to put the election process in mockery or disrepute." It said Gil has no real intention to run for president.

Opinion polls consistently showed that Gil had little public support.

An exasperated Gil said he would ask the full seven-member Comelec to reconsider the division’s decision.

"Our opponents did this to us because they are afraid of our challenge… to pay the debts of the Philippines," he told a radio interview. "But it doesn’t matter. God is watching us."

The petition to disqualify him was filed by his rival, Christian evangelist Eddie Villanueva, who said Gil’s camp was not capable of mounting a nationwide campaign and was making a "mockery of the elections."

Gil said the ruling was "very unfair" and baseless, claiming he had the backing of approximately 30 million Filipinos given assistance by his private charitable foundation in the past.

"I can’t control them if they will launch a revolution or a rebellion," Gil said, but said he would accept a final decision by the Supreme Court on his case.

Gil vented his contempt for the Comelec. "I will toss them into the Pasig River. I will toss them into hell," he told dozens of supporters in front of the Manila Cathedral, just a few meters from the Comelec office.

He said he would continue with his campaign, saying it was up to the people to decide if he should become president or not.

Gil, who claims to be a businessman but whose political background is obscure, was earlier allowed to join the contest after he fielded a complete 12-member slate of senatorial candidates for his party.

Five of the candidates later withdrew from his Partido Isang Bansa Isang Diwa, complaining that Gil does not have the capability to run a nationwide campaign, among other complaints.

The Comelec has yet to decide if it will delist Gil’s party from its roster. "But we are expecting another favorable decision on the case," said lawyer Jordan Pizarras, legal counsel of Villanueva’s Bangon Pilipinas Movement.

Gil has been more of a sideshow in the run-up to the elections, with local newspapers and radio stations poking fun at his eccentricities and boast that he could pay off the Philippines’ huge foreign debt.

At one time, he claimed to be an international banker but was baffled when a reporter asked him what his net worth was.

He has also figured in embarrassing situations in recent weeks.

In February, Gil was briefly detained in Cagayan de Oro City after issuing several worthless checks for his hotel bill while campaigning there, police said. He was finally forced to pay cash.

Gil was previously disqualified as a nuisance candidate while running for the Senate in 2001. He was later allowed to contest the poll but lost, receiving the lowest number of votes of all 37 senatorial candidates.

Gil’s removal leaves incumbent President Arroyo, opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr., Sen. Panfilo Lacson, former Arroyo education secretary Raul Roco and Villanueva in the presidential race.

Gil’s lawyer, Elcid Marcos, said there was "no reason to disqualify Eddie Gil because he has all the qualifications and none of the disqualifications."

"The issue of not being able to wage a national campaign is a non-issue," Marcos told reporters. "We do not ask Fernando Poe Jr., we do not ask President Arroyo if they have the money for the campaign. Candidates can win elections even without money."

Despite that, Marcos still believed that Gil would be able to keep his promise to make every Filipino a millionaire and pay the nation’s huge foreign debt.

"He wants to do that and I don’t think he would say that unless he means to do exactly that. I believe in him as a man though I don’t check his bank accounts. I believe that he is sincere in what he said."

Aside from the Cagayan de Oro hotel incident and his promise to pay off the country’s debts, the Comelec second division also cited Gil’s errors in accomplishing his registration certificate when he signed up for the elections with the Comelec.

Gil wrote "Filipino" in the entry for gender, "businessmen" for his profession and the married name of his wife instead of her maiden name.

"Needless to say, failure to comply with such simple instructions and basic requirement of the law indicates his lackadaisical attitude if not total disregard for the process of elections," the Comelec said. "All told, as logic will tell us, it is inevitable to conclude that respondent (Gil) is not a stranger to the games of charlatans and impostors."

The filing of candidacies usually draws all sorts of people from the serious politician to the devoutly religious figures.

In the 1998 elections, one candidate who signed up for the presidential race even carried a wooden staff and wore a robe like a character straight out of the Bible.

The Comelec has the authority to screen candidates, declare them as nuisance and disqualify them to prevent the elections from turning into a circus.

All applicants are reviewed to see if they have the sincerity and the resources to conduct a nationwide campaign.

This year, dozens of obscure individuals — most with grandiose or utopian plans to uplift the lives of Filipinos — have filed their candidacies for president but were promptly disqualified.

Pizarras said voters would no longer confuse Gil for Villanueva, who is better known as Brother Eddie, now that the fringe presidential candidate is out of the running. "It would pave the way for a mockery-free election for the Filipino people."

Villanueva earlier said Gil’s candidacy threatened his bid because the Comelec had ruled that votes for "Eddie" would be counted for Gil.

"It is good to review the fitness of a candidate who threatens the chances of a viable and highly qualified contender," independent senatorial candidate Heherson Alvarez said. "When a nuisance candidate is tolerated because of an oversight, a good man is unnecessarily put at a disadvantage."

Guillermo Luz, secretary-general of the citizens watchdog group National Movement for Free Elections, said Gil "should not have been qualified in the first place."

Villanueva’s camp had earlier accused the Arroyo administration of orchestrating Gil’s candidacy to derail the Christian preacher’s presidential bid, a charge Malacañang denies.

President Arroyo had urged Villanueva — who heads the Jesus is Lord Church Worldwide, which has at least two million members — not to join the presidential race to avoid splitting the vote.

Mrs. Arroyo is facing a tough challenge from opposition front-runner Fernando Poe Jr., who is expected to win because of his iconic movie star popularity despite his lack of public office experience.

"I would like to congratulate Bro. Eddie Villanueva," Arroyo campaign spokesman Michael Defensor told reporters. "I hope that we could somehow convince him that we are not behind Mr. Eddie Gil."

"It was a very unfair accusation and we’re glad that these developments bear out the facts that we have nothing to do with the candidacy of Mr. Eddie Gil," Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said. — With Edu Punay, Evelyn Macairan, Marichu Villanueva, AFP

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved