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Editorial

Perverting the elections

/ 05:07 AM October 17, 2021

Lawmakers filed this week several bills seeking to amend specific provisions in the Omnibus Election Code, in the wake of the chaos and confusion generated by political figures who filed certificates of candidacy (COC) but were widely seen as mere stand-ins or “placeholders” for their party’s official late-breaking candidate.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez filed House Bill No. 10380, which aims to prohibit the substitution of any candidate except in cases of death or disqualification; the current law is more liberal, allowing substitution due to withdrawal. The Makabayan bloc also filed a similar bill seeking to stop politicians from trifling with the substitution provision in the election law.

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“… [S]ubstitution because of withdrawal, or what others call voluntary substitution, may pose serious questions and may lead to the manipulation and mockery of the election process,” said Rodriguez. “Withdrawals could lead the voting public to believe that the candidate who withdrew, or even the political party or substituting candidate, is not really serious.”

The lawmaker from Mindanao likewise filed HB 10381, which seeks to reinstate an old provision in the election law that declared an incumbent official resigned ipso facto upon filing of candidacy for another position. This provision was scrapped by Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Elections Act of 2001. Rodriguez said the reinstatement of this provision would “force aspirants to take running for higher office seriously and to stop manipulating and mocking the electoral process,” and level the playing field by preventing incumbents from using their office, public funds, and property to promote their candidacy.

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These bills deserve merit, especially after the sordid spectacle that attended the opening of the May 2022 election season. Sen. Bato dela Rosa surprised the public when he showed up at Sofitel in Pasay City on Oct. 8, the last day of filing of COCs, to present himself as a candidate for president. Dela Rosa, the former chief implementor of President Duterte’s bloody drug war, filed his candidacy while wearing a T-shirt that had the logos of PDP-Laban, the President’s party, and Hugpong ng Pagbabago, the political party of presidential daughter Sara Duterte. It was not his personal decision to run, Dela Rosa glibly admitted; he was asked a mere two hours before to rush to the Sofitel to file his papers, where he indicated that his party was PDP-Laban. But when asked if Sara Duterte—who is not his partymate—would eventually substitute for him, Dela Rosa said: “Eh ’di mas maganda. By all means, I will give way.”

Rodriguez has the right antidote for such a manifestly shameless attempt to game the elections: “Any person who has no real intention to run and only filed for candidacy as a placeholder (for another aspirant) should be declared a nuisance candidate.”

Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez, however, said such admission was not enough ground to disqualify any candidate.

Thus, amending and putting more teeth to the law has become even more imperative to prevent the trivialization of the election process. In the previous Congress, several such bills were filed, including three that sought to penalize nuisance candidates and one bill that wanted to exclude withdrawal of candidacy as a means for substitution. All of them languished at the committee level. Last August, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading HB 9557, which lays out a procedure for declaring nuisance candidates and imposes penalties of up to P100,000 on them. The bill is awaiting its counterpart at the Senate.

Exploiting the substitution provision in the Omnibus Election Code has seemingly become the favorite election ploy of many politicians, for one reason: In the 2016 elections, a “reluctant” Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte deployed it to spectacularly successful effect in his run for president when he substituted for his party-mate Martin Diño at the last minute, even if Diño’s submitted papers said he was running for “mayor.” This time, Melvin Matibag, secretary general of the PDP-Laban Cusi faction led by Mr. Duterte and under which Dela Rosa filed his COC, justified what appears to be yet another crass attempt at belated substitution by labeling it as “political strategy.”

“[The] Filing (of COC) should be a conscious, voluntary and selfless act to offer to the ‘altar of the ballot’ for the sole purpose of serving the people,” reminded former senator Chiz Escudero in a tweet on Oct. 12. “It is not done to please any one person/group/party, much less to ‘play’ with and circumvent the intent of electoral process.”

It’s way past time to fix the laws that have opened the floodgates for buccaneering politicians and their proxies to manipulate and pervert the system.

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