The Freeman : Premature campaigning not a crime in the Philippines?

News & Interviews
16 June 2021

By Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez | The Freeman

As of today, many traditional politicians and even non-trapos, are already campaigning, one way or another, even using the community pantry or social media as partisan campaign platforms But my “cousin” (our respective grandfathers were brothers from Jaro, Iloilo), Director James Jimenez of Comelec, declared that the rules are crazy, or even stupid, and only Congress can rectify this legal incongruity. But just like the dilemma on the Anti-Family Dynasty provision of the Constitution, why would senators and congressmen pass a law that is adverse to their interests?

In principle, premature campaigning is any act of promoting one's candidacy prior to the campaign period. The filing of the certificates of candidacy will be from October 1 to 8, 2021 but the campaign period starts only on February 5, 2022 for national positions and on March 28, 2021 for local posts. That means that a person who campaigns prior to filing of candidacy cannot be punished because he is not a candidate. In the case of Rosalinda Pinera versus Comelec, in 2013, no less than the Supreme Court, speaking through Justice Antonio Carpio (now 1Sambayan convenor with his cousin, Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales) said that even when one has already filed a certificate of candidacy, he or she is not yet a candidate until the start of the campaign period. And once the campaign period starts, it is no longer premature campaigning. So, there is no more crime.

Two weeks ago, a councilor of Quezon City put up a community pantry, which turned out to be a super-spreader, with so many people who went there testing positive for COVID-19 immediately thereafter. We were not born yesterday to believe that this politician was doing that not for partisan political objective but out of the goodness of his heart. He was shaking hands, and delivering a speech, having his picture taken with barangay leaders and residents. If that was not campaigning, I must really be an idiot. We all know that was really a partisan political activity. But looking at Republic Act 8436 as amended by RA 9369, and in the light of the Supreme Court ruling in Pinera versus Comelec, nobody can charge that guy for premature campaigning.

Even the principle against excessive spending cannot be applied because until the campaign period, no one can be considered a candidate even if he had already filed his certificate of candidacy. And so, a person who filed his certificate of candidacy from October 1 to 8, 2020 is not yet considered a candidate until the campaign period. That is what my cousin James calls stupid. The Comelec will be blamed again for failure to enforce the election laws. But the truth of the matter is that the commission cannot do anything because it cannot amend the law, cannot change the definitions as interpreted by the Supreme Court. In writing the Pinera decision, Justice Carpio himself said that only Congress can pass a remedial legislation. But would the congressmen and senators do it? No way. They are not stupid.

Congress is not inclined to pass laws that will work against their own self-interests and political ambitions. The Constitution, as early as 1987, had mandated the enactment of an enabling statute to the anti-dynasty provision of the fundamental law. This kind of legislative measure has never left ground zero. Why? Look at the dynasties in the whole Philippines. It is present in all provinces, all cities, and even all barangays. Power in this country is inherited just like the royal kingdoms in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Our politicians do not really believe what our fundamental law provides, that sovereignty resides in the people and all authority emanates from them. This is the democracy where family dynasties of trapos “fool” the people, “buy” the people, and “off” the people. So, if that was done to the anti-dynasty law, the same fate shall befall the one about premature campaigning.

Well, maybe the people have accepted this as intrinsically ingrained in our political psyche and national culture. Since they cannot beat it, they just accept it. Until it looks like the normal thing. But we, who know better, are the ones making much ado about this nut that is hardest to crack. The dissenters are the unhappiest Filipinos. Those who jump on the bandwagon make the country the home of the happiest people on earth. Which do you prefer, to be right or to be happy?