Binay, Roxas, Poe asked: Where's your delicadeza?

Gigi Grande, ABS-CBN News

WHEN a presidential aspirant travels to vote-rich provinces, distributes goods, visits public markets, shakes hands with people and poses for photographs at this time, is he engaged in premature campaigning? It depends on who's talking.

But for all their high visibility in the countryside, archrivals Vice President Jejomar Binay and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas have declared in almost similar fashion: this ain’t campaigning; it’s just part of the job. These two men, who slugged it out for the No. 2 post in the 2010 elections, are known presidential wannabes, all set for a rematch in the May 2016 elections.

Binay: 18 trips

Away from his critics, Binay finds time to reach out to the people in the provinces and explain his side to the non-stop allegations of corruption hurled against him for the past 12 months. He has gone to the provinces at least 18 times since May 2015, distributing wheelchairs, medical equipment, t-shirts, bracelets, clocks and candies with "Binay" printed on the wrappers. His sorties have taken him to vote-rich areas like Cebu, Laguna, Rizal, Negros Occidental, Pangasinan, Cavite, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan.

Binay publicly declared he wanted to be the next president a few days after he was sworn in as vice president in May 2010, making him the most formidable aspirant until allegations of corruption came one after the other.

Roxas: 31 trips

But if Binay distributes wheelchairs, Roxas has been distributing police jeeps, purportedly as part of "Oplan Lambat Sibat", a nationwide anti-crime campaign. He has traveled to the countryside at least 31 times since May 2015, with sorties taking him to vote-rich provinces Cebu, Pampangga, Laguna, Bulacan and Batangas.

Each of these provinces can swing a candidate to victory.

In a "gathering of friends" at the historic Club Filipino in July, President Aquino III formally anointed Roxas as his man for the May 2016 elections, with Roxas accepting gleefully, way ahead of the campaign period that begins in February.

Giving away checks, jeeps

Roxas has also been distributing checks, not just jeeps, as part of the DILG’s Seal of Good Housekeeping campaign, visiting public markets, and provinces hit by calamities.

Mar Roxas turning over PNP Patrol Jeeps in Bantay, Ilocos Sur. Photo courtesy of Mar Roxas' Facebook page

But some political observers refused to believe all these sorties were not in aid of elections.

One of them is political science professor Antonio Contreras of the De La Salle University. “I don’t think people believe that for a minute," Contreras told ABS-CBN in an interview. "Malinaw na pangangampanya na yan. Importante ang name recall kaya nagsisimula na sila ng maaga para makapasok sa kamalayan ng mga tao,” he said of Roxas and Binay.

A private group of lawyers, the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), said that Binay and Roxas have all but thrown their cares out the window.

Apart from provincial trips, both Roxas and Binay have appeared in political advertisements on television and radio in recent months selling their so-called achievements, as well as their vision and mission for the Philippines.

Damned if you do, damned if you don't

But Dr. Milwida Guevara of the Movement for Good Governance thinks otherwise, saying Roxas is in a "no-win" situation.

“Nung 'di nya ginagawa yun (traveling to provinces) sabi nila, napaka-suplado nito, parang hindi DILG Secretary. Ngayon na pumupunta duon, they still criticize him. Saan ba sya pupwesto?” Guevara asked.

But LENTE lawyer Kenjie Aman said there was no need for Roxas to personally travel to the provinces to deliver checks or jeeps.

“Those jobs are not for him to do," Aman said. "That’s why there are local public officers. Yung (Super Typhoon) Yolanda, yes he should have been there because it was an exceptional circumstance. But the distribution of jeeps?”

Public market visits

Binay’s camp has justified the public market visits by saying it is a way for him to listen to the people.

The official website of the Office of the Vice President said it is Binay's job to have “interactions with his constituents… to provide (him) first-hand knowledge of their problems… and make appropriate recommendations to concerned agencies”.

Not in job description

While it may be true that the Vice President is getting the pulse of his constituents in the provinces, it’s unclear if he fulfills his obligation to refer information to appropriate agencies.

Said Contreras: “Maybe he did when he was still part of the Cabinet. But hindi na nya nagagawa yun ngayon kasi kumalas na sya sa Cabinet. At yung mamigay ng wheelchair, wala yun sa job description nya.”

Binay resigned as Presidential Adviser for OFW Affairs and chairman of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council last June.

“A Vice President, under the Constitution," according to Aman, "is the spare tire of the President. Yung mga national issues ay madalas naman naipapalabas through surveys and the news, so he doesn’t have to visit these places to know the sentiments of the people. Again, that’s the job of the local officials."

Grace Poe, too?

Contreras said he's convinced Senator Grace Poe has also started to campaign in recent months. She has been likewise appearing in TV and radio advertisements.

Last week, Poe visited the vote-rich provinces of Cebu, Pangasinan and Nueva Ecija.

Unlike Binay and Roxas, however, Poe has not yet declared her intention to run for President in 2016.

“I think she’s starting to (campaign) too, except that nalilimitahan sya at wala pa syang masyadong funds,” Contreras said.

Poe said she has been traveling to provinces all along, but it is only now that the media have taken an interest in her sorties.

A matter of ‘delikadeza’

LENTE said there was nothing illegal about presidential aspirants campaigning at this time, as there isn't any law prohibiting them to do so.

Aman said premature campaigning is no longer an election offense following the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Penera vs Comelec. A person who files his or her Certificate of Candidacy is only considered a candidate when the campaign period begins, he said.

The campaign period for national positions officially begins on Feb. 9, 2016.

But Aman said it’s a matter of delicadeza. "It is the position of LENTE that even if it is legal, mahiya naman tayo. Alam mong mali yan.”

He said the reason a campaign period was set, as well as a cap on campaign expenditures, is to ensure a level playing field for all candidates regardless of the resources available to them.

Said Contreras: “May early advantage yung mga mapepera. Yung walang mga milyones, samantalang qualified naman o mas magaling pa nga, hindi sila nabibigyan ng parehong opportunidad.”

“To me, the best punishment is not to vote for them,” Aman said. “Kung nagawa nila na hindi pa nakaluklok sa pwesto na manlamang para makuha ang gusto nila, what would prevent him or her from doing that kapag nasa pwesto na?”