The Philippine Star : To win votes

6 October 2021

By The Philippine Star

It’s now the sixth day for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) at the offices of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) all over the country. So far, there are more than 20 individuals wishing to become the country’s next President while less than half of that number want to be Vice President (VP).

On the 12-man Senatorial race, more than 70 aspirants filed COCs and a little over than that number are party list groups which are also elected nationally. At the local level, the Comelec satellite offices around the country have accepted thousands already of COCs for all those running from provincial governors down to city and town mayors and councilors.

The process, however, does not end at the submission of COCs. The Comelec will still pass upon and review each and every COCs. Especially at the national level, the Comelec en banc will vet COCs from legitimate ones and disqualify the so-called “nuisance” candidates.

Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon posted this on her Twitter account last Monday: “Who are we to say who can and cannot dream to be Senator? Lack of money doesn’t automatically mean they have no capacity to campaign nationwide.”

The final reckoning though is on election day as to who among them will the Filipinos vote for on May 9, 2022.

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte announced already he is supposedly retiring from politics at the end of his term on June 30 next year. In an unexpected turn of events, President Duterte withdrew this early his original plan less than a month after he accepted the VP draft of his PDP-Laban. He instead gave way to his long-time aide, Sen.Christopher “Bong” Go to run as the VP candidate of the ruling administration party.

With him out of the picture, this removes the obstacle put up by presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio that “only one Duterte” should run in the coming national elections. Out to spite her father perhaps, the Mayor filed COC on the same day for her re-election in office at Davao City Hall. The fiercely independent Mayor has been consistently topping mock presidential polls. Just last month, she denounced the alleged attempts of unnamed Malacanang officials to drag her with the political drama of her father.

With our very loose election laws, any reluctant candidate can still withdraw his or her COC or to substitute a new elective post to run for. As per the approved Comelec calendar for the 2022 national and local elections, the last day for substitution is still on Nov. 15. The substitution rule allows an individual to replace a candidate from the same party whether the substitute previously filed, or did not file a COC. However, a candidate who previously filed COC, whether for lower or higher position, will have to withdraw the first COC filed.

The former Davao City Mayor is no stranger to this substitution rule because he did this during the May, 2016 presidential elections and won. Given this political history of President Duterte, his announced retirement was thus received with expected suspicions. However, the 76-year old President made a give-away remark that he will support the “Sara-Go” tandem.

The cat was already out of the bag. So the dogs are now noisily barking, rather at the wrong tree.

Meanwhile, the seven-man poll body acknowledged the futility of strictly enforcing the so-called “premature campaign” rule. The rule against “premature campaigning” was originally provided under the 1985 Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines Batas Pambansa Blg.881. This Marcos era law has been amended through the years in bits and pieces. Thus, many of the previous hard and fast rules have been effectively defanged.

One of the grounds for disqualification under this Code was the commission of “premature campaign” activity or statements. Once a candidate files his or her COC, he or she could already be charged with “premature campaign” on any activities or “to vote for me” statements in public. This campaign rule was supposed to level the playing field for all candidates where the moneyed ones could spend so much more for political campaign activities.

Long before the COC filing period, a number of these wannabes with moist eyes for the presidency were among the most visible in a number of advertisements in the guise of advocacy, or info-mercials coming out on television, radio, and print. But others have been engaged in their social media platforms long before they filed their COC and have been enjoying head start campaigning.

Not even couched on subliminal messages, they actively promoted themselves on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube channels etc. Amid the pandemic, this offers the most safe campaign platform.

In her Twitter post, Comelec commissioner Guanzon retorted: “No prohibitions yet for those who filed COCs. They remain to be aspirants and not yet considered candidates.” She cited Section 13 of Republic Act (RA) 9369, amending Section 11 of RA 8436 which became Section 15 as amended. Both RA 8436 and RA 9369 amended specific provisions of the Omnibus Election Code.

Guanzon particularly referred to paragraph 2 of Section 13 of RA 9369 that states: “Any person who files his certificate of candidacy within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy: Provided, That, unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall effect only upon that start of the aforesaid campaign period.”

Incidentally, the same provision also requires all appointive public officials, including active members of the Armed Forces and the police, and employees in government-owned or-controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso facto resigned from his/her office and must vacate the same once he or she files COC.

Per the approved election calendar of the Comelec, the campaign period for next year’s election starts on Feb. 28 yet until May 7. So in addition to this official campaign period next year, candidates have this long stretch of time to win the hearts and minds of their voters.