A few days ago, the Comelec solicited the support of netizens, who were asked to post images of premature campaigning, particularly the posting of electoral paraphernalia in public cemeteries as the Filipino people remember their dead last All Saints’ and All Souls’ Day.
This appeal by the Comelec spokesperson seeks to ostracize these over-eager candidates in the absence of a law that prohibits premature campaigning.
At the surface, the proposal seems commendable as the sanctity of the electoral process is sought to be a shared responsibility between the Comelec and the voting population. But to goad the public into posting such infractions would only satisfy the attention-seeking crusade of traditional politicians, who are all hustling for public space, including cyberspace.
Bad publicity is still publicity for candidates, especially the affluent ones who could produce millions of electoral paraphernalia without denting their lined pockets. These aspirants would actually gain from such postings as they intend to increase their awareness levels in the surveys in the early part of the campaign before converting awareness into preference at the official start of the campaign period.
This sorry predicament by Comelec provides a glimpse into an electoral exercise that is skewed towards the affluent few. Case in point is the landmark case of Rosalinda A. Penera v. Commission on Elections and Edgar T. Andanar, where the Supreme Court ruled that “a candidate is only liable for election offenses only upon the start of the election period”. Therefore, technicality would be in favor of incumbent candidates who could speak before official functions such as barangay assemblies in the guise of “freedom of expression” or “official business”.
It is truly a travesty that we have a Constitutional commission that, in paper, is free from political interference by other governmental bodies. But could not interfere against infractions to its very own mandate for a free, fair and honest elections.
The absence of the law makes premature campaigning legal. It is a glaring loophole in the SC ruling but would not be plugged by lawmakers, who are so used to not-so-hidden campaigning before the official campaign period. They go around barangays, donate all sort of implements, attend all public functions, and worse, use public funds and facilities to advance their candidacy but are not charged nor convicted because they would not enact a law that would be contrary to their selfish political motives.
The best example of this shameless (but not illegal) practice is use of pork barrel fund allocations by now House Speaker Gloria Arroyo who in 2009 alone spent P459 million to fund thirty two (32) infrastracture projects in the second district of Pampanga. It is thus not surprising that she won as its district representative the following year.
Moreover, legal premature campaigning also takes the form of political advertisements of already popular candidates. By simply deleting the term “vote”, and because it is done before the official campaign period, broadcast companies could not be tagged as guilty accomplices to premature (but profitable) campaigning that gives undue advantage to wealthy politicians, who do not represent the ranks of the toiling and impoverished majority..
It is also an open secret that programs that allegedly empowers the electorate by “knowing their candidates” have a price tag on their guest list. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) keeps track of unscrupulous media practices during elections.
The electoral system is flawed. The calls for delicadeza against premature campaigning, which is not prohibited by law, would only fall on deaf ears of power-hungry affluent officials and profit-driven media outfits.
And so, the responsibility for fair elections should and would be borne by the voters themselves. We should not only raise our standards by rejecting a choice for a lesser evil. More so, the masses should not be content by merely choosing their representatives in government as their sole responsibility in the body politic. The Filipino people, particularly the workers and the poor, should use their numbers not just as voters but as active participants in all levels of governance. Democracy and sovereignty resides in the people; and such authority is inexistent if they are not organized during and after the electoral exercise.
The midterm elections next year is the most opportune moment to mobilize the people towards their constant and consistent participation in politics, which is the crucial element to affect genuine and meaningful change in Philippine society.
For if we fail in doing this, then the succeeding elections would be more of the same, a system that merely breeds a new generation of opportunist, careerist, and exploitative bureaucrats from the ranks of the privileged and powerful few as ordinary folks remain their mere voters and taxpayers.
It is a strata whose sons and daughters are so content with their social status that they do not strive for excellence or competence. More importantly, they would not endeavor to pursue the welfare of the masses.
The people have no one else but themselves to rely on if they want their champions in the august halls of government. We deserve better.
Ka Leody de Guzman, 59, is the chairman of Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino and a senatorial aspirant under Partido Lakas ng Masa.