MANILA — Local campaign officially begins Friday in a crucial midterm elections analysts believe can either push or halt President Rodrigo Duterte’s federalism agenda.
Around 18,000 seats — from the House of Representatives to municipal councils — are up for grabs, with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) hoping the campaign would be less violent than in previous polls.
“What we want to see is more restraint on the part of candidates, rein in supporters, avoid instances of violence,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez told ANC, noting that local campaigns were more “rowdy” than national races.
The commission earlier designated the entire Mindanao region as an election hotspot, and might place certain parts under its direct control during the campaign.
Campaign both for national and local positions will be allowed until May 11 or 2 days before the elections.
The Comelec is eyeing the strict implementation of the law against illegal campaign materials and overspending, including advertisements on social media.
Philippine elections were traditionally marred by violence and incidents of vote-buying, with political dynasties wielding heavy influence on voters under a so-called patronage system.
Efforts were made in the past to reform the electoral system by strengthening political parties, discouraging personality-centered elections, and legislating the constitutional ban on political dynasties.
These reforms were at the heart of the proposed federal constitution drafted by a committee of experts handpicked by Duterte last year.
The draft pushed for 18 federated regions under a new system that would supposedly spread wealth and development more equitably.
Getting more local officials behind Duterte in the May elections “will be important to him as evidence of popular support for the agenda that he wants to carry on,” said professor Edna Co, a former public administration dean at the University of the Philippines.
The House of Representatives rejected much of the Duterte committee’s proposals—including the anti-political provision—in its own version of a federal charter.
Senators have so far ignored the drive for federalism, a major Duterte campaign promise, raising suspicions over the motives behind efforts to revise the constitution.
“One way to circumvent the problems in Congress... is to put people as part of the process of deciding whether or not to have charter change,” said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
Casiple referred to the constitutional provision allowing majority of Congress to ask the electorate whether they were in favor of amending the charter through a constitutional convention.
“So, that is the possibility there, in which case, the support of local officials, or whoever wins in the elections at the local level would be decisive,” he told ABS-CBN News on Thursday.
Maintaining support among local elected officials is also seen as crucial to the president’s anti-narcotics drive, with communities bearing the brunt of the bloody campaign.
Duterte earlier admitted the country’s drug problem was getting worse, despite the thousands already killed in less than 3 years of his rule.
“It’s really at the local level where you have the victims... and this is exactly the complaint raised against the Duterte administration, that the poor are suffering from this campaign,” said Co.
Duterte earlier named politicians on his “narco-list,” apparently to discourage voters from electing them in May.
Casiple said public officials involved in illegal drugs should be prosecuted, not just removed from “positions of power.”
“The effect, of course, is you remove the base of the syndicates,” he said.
“That doesn’t mean it would be solved, but certainly it would weaken the entire drug syndicate position.”