Manila Bulletin - Filing of candidacy in January, preferred by some senators

By Mario Casayuran | Manila Bulletin

For those seeking elective government positions, avoid filing your certificate of candidacy (COC) in October to avoid unnecessary expenses during the Christmas season.

Senator Imee R. Marcos, chairwoman of the Senate electoral reforms committee, made this joke during her committee public hearing on bills seeking to stop the current practice of premature campaigning allowed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

From October, the month of filing of COCs, onwards, those who had filed their COCs are not yet officially deemed candidates until the Comelec had announced the start of the political campaign period. For presidential, vice presidential, and senatorial candidates, the campaign period is for 90 days prior to the election period. For members of the House of Representatives and local candidates, it is 45 days. It is 15 days for barangay elections.

It is within this announced campaign period, from October onwards, that prospective candidates can begin to campaign by using different and varied media forms of getting the electorates’ attention to the prejudice of those not financially well off.

Those seeking national positions down to the local government unit (LGU) level usually curry favors from electorates or are themselves subjected to pressures to spend, particularly during the Yuletide season, months or weeks preceding scheduled national or local elections usually held in May.

Candidates, particularly for national elective posts, are said to spend tens or hundreds of millions of pesos during political campaigns. Envelopes containing money or other forms of gifts are given by candidates to prospective voters. They are also victims of solicitations or being made godfathers, among others.

Instead of the usual October filing of candidacy, Marcos and Senator Aquilino Pimenrtel III, a former Senate President, are in agreement that their preferred month of filing is January. The Comelec told Marcos that it would submit its position on the matter soon. In previous congressional hearings, the Comelec has been pushing for election laws to be changed so that people would be considered as candidates the moment they file for candidacy before the poll body, which will make premature campaigning punishable.

It had reiterated that nothing in the current law prohibits politicians seeking elective posts in the May polls from airing political advertisements, guesting on shows, and getting movies and TV drama episodes produced based on their lives ahead of the campaign period. “Kadiri siya, but hindi siya bawal. [It’s disgusting, but it’s not prohibited,]” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said during a recent media talk show.

Jimenez explained that since current election laws only recognizes a person to be an official candidate once the campaign season kicks off, it created a window that allows politicians to have advertisements and TV show episodes ahead of the start of the campaign. Even movies, documentaries, concerts or any type of performance that portrays a candidate’s life—which are listed as prohibited forms of election propaganda—are allowed before the campaign period which starts on February 12, Jimenez said. “With TV being as pervasive as it is, an influential medium as it is, you know, a lot of people are concerned that having this means of reaching out to the public available for some and not to others, it unbalances the playing field,” he said.

“If your appearance on television is not news related, is not newsworthy and taken as whole, probably, only for the purpose of promoting you, then that is considered broadcast advertising,” Jimenez said. While recognizing that it skews the political playing field in favor of candidates with more money and connections, Jimenez admits that the poll body could not do anything about it without the law being amended.

Senator Richard J. Gordon had said the signing of a certificate of candidacy (COC) makes that person an official candidate. He earlier chastised TV networks, including the ABS-CBN network, for charging candidates at very exorbitant rates during the political campaign season.