The Philippine Star : EDITORIAL - Premature campaigning

3 October 2021

By The Philippine Star

On the first day of the filing of certificates of candidacy, the Commission on Elections had a message to the aspirants: there is a formal campaign period for national and local bets, and they should refrain from early campaigning. But with the Supreme Court ruling that there is no such thing as premature campaigning, the Comelec can only appeal to the best nature of the candidates.

Some quarters argue that it can be difficult to define the activities that constitute campaigning, especially for incumbent officials whose positions allow them to interact with voters. But there are certain acts that unmistakably constitute campaigning: displaying self-promoting materials whether in the streets or on social media, for example, or distributing to the public items such as t-shirts and rubber shoes emblazoned with a person’s image and name. Even using the COVID vaccination drive to promote a particular official can be construed as campaigning for a person who has already filed a certificate of candidacy.

The Comelec may be powerless to stop premature campaigning, but candidates themselves should want the campaign strictly confined to a limited period set by law or election rules. Horse-trading and wooing of votes make election campaigns in this country extremely expensive. Raising funds for a decent election campaign often paves the way for future sweetheart deals and other corruption-tainted contracts awarded by winners to their supporters as payment for utang na loob or debt of gratitude.

Election campaigns and the failure to regulate campaign finance breed corruption. The failure to develop a merit-based society is also rooted in the propensity of winning candidates to use appointments or promotions in public office as rewards for support during election campaigns, with qualifications for the job merely an afterthought.

A shorter campaign period would mean lower expenses – and fewer debts of gratitude owed to campaign donors. While wealthy candidates will always have an edge, a shorter campaign period and the consequent reduced expenditures can help level the playing field for those with limited resources.

The Comelec’s appeal to candidates sounded like howling at the moon. Many voters, however, can tell who are brazenly conducting premature campaigning. Voters can express their displeasure at the polls.