Congress urged to extend electioneering ban to embassy officials' families

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 06 2022 10:31 AM | Updated as of Mar 06 2022 11:03 AM

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MANILA — An election lawyer on Sunday called on Congress to pass a law prohibiting families of embassy officials from engaging in electioneering or partisan political activities.

"Dapat i-address ng Kongreso na hopefully ma-extend sana 'yong prohibition, on the ban on electioneering or partisan political activity doon sa kasapi ng embahada natin, both career and non-career," lawyer Emil Marañon told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.

(Congress should address this, hopefully by extending the prohibition, on the ban on electioneering or partisan political activity to members of our embassies, both career and non-career.)

He made the suggestion after the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) bared that it ordered Philippine Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Adnan Alonto to return to the country after his wife was caught on video openly campaigning for a presidential candidate.

A video posted on social media showed Alonto's wife endorsing former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. before the Filipino community in Saudi. 

Under the 1987 Constitution, civil service employees are banned from directly or indirectly engaging "in any electioneering or partisan political campaign."

Marañon said family members are an extension of the ambassador even though Alonto did not directly campaign for Marcos.

"Hindi man directly magiging liable siya ng civil service suits but by extension, it reflects on the position din on the ambassador," he said.

(She may not be directly liable for civil service suits but by extension, she is a reflection of the position of the ambassador.)

Marañon said the incident "is something not only unethical but it is actually a breach of the neutrality expected from the Philippine embassy."

Ambassadors hold influence over overseas Filipino workers, especially in countries where they are dependent on the embassies for help when they experience abuse from employers, Marañon explained.

"Iniisip mo parati na kailangan kang sumunod para if in case na may mangyari sa'yo, may tatakbuhan ka, may poprotekta sa'yo," he said.

(The OFWs always think that they need to follow the embassy officials so if in case anything happens to them, they have somewhere to go, someone to protect them.)

The situation is further complicated by the fact that embassy officials are also in charge of overseas voting, Marañon said.

"[Embassies] become the extension of Comelec (Commission on Elections), they become the Comelec abroad," he said.

Marañon commended the DFA for its "very strong" and "swift" action over the incident.

The DFA said Saturday it “regularly reminds personnel here and at Foreign Service Posts on the prohibition against engagement, whether directly or indirectly, in any electioneering or partisan political activity.”

"It does not condone acts that go against the Omnibus Election Code, the Overseas Voting Act of 2013 and the COMELEC-CSC Joint Circular No. 001, series of 2016," it added.