MANILA, March 2, 2004 (STAR) FIRST PERSON By Alex Magno - It is becoming increasingly difficult to observe the elections with a straight face.

Last week, Eddie Ilarde marched to the Comelec to demand that his candidacy be re-classified. He used to be running under the Isang Bansa, Isang Diwa party whose presidential candidate is a man named Eddie Gil. The only memorable thing about this partyís program of government is that Gil promises to pay down the nationís debt using his own funds.

About 0.2 percent of our voters actually believe that the debt could actually be paid down by one manís pocket money. That translates into twenty people out of every thousand. That is not a small number considering the outrageousness of Gilís electoral promise.

Although there is no chance he will actually win (although a real calamity might still happen), twenty voters out of every thousand voting for this man is by itself an unhealthy sign about the competence of our electorate. Twenty voters out of every thousand plus all the electoral commissioners actually believe this is a serious candidacy.

An unhealthy sign, indeed, considering that another "serious" candidate invokes the mandate of heaven for his presidential run and yet another is running under a screen alias.

The first thing that strikes one about Eddie Gil is his choice of wigs. But he has a right to make a fashion statement, I suppose. If someone else can run invoking the name of God and another runs under a false name, why not someone who runs with false hair?

But the choice of wigs is not the most distressing thing about this candidate who promises to "Gil the nation." On his first sortie to Cagayan de Oro, the man was also reported to have issued false checks to cover his bills. When he was prevented from leaving until he properly settled his accounts with a local hotel, the candidate cried political harassment.

Gil, who claims to be an "international investor" with a personal worth running into the "trillions", rings no bell in the business community. This man, who promises to pay down our external debt single-handedly, is not listed as a major taxpayer. In the course of a television interview aired last month, it was clear he had no grasp of the simplest business terms.

How could Eddie Ilarde have, in the first place, fallen into the company of such a presidential candidate?

I remember Ilarde as a relatively well-regarded broadcaster many years ago. He actually ran for the Senate under the banner of the Liberal Party in 1971.

He was at the forefront of what would be a large-scale media invasion of the political sphere. And also the first indication that this may not be a wise thing to happen.

A few days after Ilarde requested a change in the status of his candidacy, two other senatorial candidates Ė Pilar Pilapil and Floro Crisologo Ė declared they were quitting the race. Like Ilarde, they expressed disgust at their standard-bearer.

According to one report, Gil promised his senatorial candidates between P200 and P400 million each as campaign subsidy. For that money, I might consider running for a Senate seat myself!

That beats by more than a mile Raul Rocoís claim the Rodolfo Biazon accepted P30 million to shift parties and run under the banner of K-4. Biazon has threatened to sue Roco for libel for making such an unfounded claim.

But how could Ilarde, Pilapil and Crisologo ever believe that Gil had that sort of money to dispense to his candidates?

In the face of candidate defections, the Comelec announced the body would review Eddie Gilís candidacy. They should have done that last January.

But, as I understand it, the Comelec was trapped in a technicality. I vaguely recall having read a report somewhere that Isang Bansa, Isang Diwa was a registered political party.

Although Gil might seem to be only shades removed from that guy who registered his candidacy as Jesus Christ and that woman who claims to be secretly married to George W. Bush, holding the franchise to a registered political party might seem to be more or less solid ground to claim seriousness as a candidate. That, by no means, establishes sanity, only seriousness in mounting a nationwide campaign.

The Comelec, after all, accredited Panfilo Lacsonís candidacy even if, as things now stand, he is without a party. The poll body likewise accredited Eddie Villanuevaís candidacy even if he runs on the back of a religious sect.

After all, indeed, how many real political parties do we really have?

It has been said many times that one has to be mad to want to be president of this ungovernable country. If that is true, then Eddie Gil must be qualified.

From his looks, this man is obviously Filipino. He appears to have received some formal education, probably a bit more than one other presidential contender. I am not sure how many estafa cases have been filed against him, but no one at least has accused this man of murdering another Filipino or ordering an extrajudicial execution. He is not campaigning on the basis of some compelling religious faith Ė and thus does not threaten the establishment of some Christian variant of the Taliban regime in our land.

In a word, Eddi Gil is safe Ė at least for as long as we donít accept his checks and demand cash from him to settle his obligations.

Anyone who believes he will fork over P200 million to subsidize his candidates does so at their own peril. The fact that some gullible people actually agreed to run for Senate seats because of some Eddie Gil promise of subsidy should not disqualify this man from seeking the presidency.

The fact that Ilarde, Pilapil and Crisologo fell for Eddie Gilís promise simply tells us the three are suckers. Maybe there more suckers out there. Maybe there are enough suckers to elect Eddie Gil as this hapless republicís next Chief of State. We donít know.

The final value of free elections is not so much that we get to know more about our candidates. It is that we get to know more about ourselves by the types of candidates who presume there will be enough voters to bring them to high office.

Eddie Gil might seem like a swindler. But, to be sure, he has not been convicted for it.

Besides, the greater swindle, I suppose, is to ask out voters to elect a screen illusion rather than a real person. Opportunism is too kind a word for such a ploy. It is a grand effort to swindle millions of voters.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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