Poll watchdog, groups blast use of 'placeholders' in 2022 polls

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 12 2021 04:37 PM

Sen. Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa files his certificate of candidacy for president at the Harbor Garden tent of the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City on Oct. 08, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Sen. Ronald ‘Bato’ Dela Rosa files his certificate of candidacy for president at the Harbor Garden tent of the Sofitel Hotel in Pasay City on Oct. 08, 2021. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA— Poll watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) on Tuesday hit political groups for seemingly using the November 15 substitution deadline set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as part of their political strategy.

While taking note of the provision in the Omnibus Election Code that allows substitution for candidates who will die, be disqualified or withdraw from the race, LENTE Executive Director Rona Caritos pointed out that the filing of Certificates of Candidacy (COC) from October 1 to 8 also underlines the political parties’ seriousness and preparedness to field their most competent bets.

“Kung ikaw ay political party talaga, pinaghahandaan 'yan eh, at pinagpaplanuhan. At hindi lang 'yan basta-basta magpi-field tayo ng kandidato at kung magpi-field tayo, magiging place holder sya,” Caritos told ABS-CBN News.

(If you're a political party, you prepare for that, you plan. You don't just field any candidate as a placeholder.)

“So hindi siya magandang indikasyon para sa pagpapalakas ng political party sa Pilipinas kasi ibig sabihin niyan, ah walang pagi-isip at walang masyadong pagpaplano yung ginawa ng political parting (party) may ganyang strategy,” she added.

(So that's not a good indication for the political party system in the Philippines because that means those with that kind of strategy don't think through, don't plan.)

Caritos made these observations days after Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s unexpected filing of his COC for the presidential derby, under the ruling PDP-Laban wing backed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Dela Rosa, a former police general who has been a senator just since 2019, during interviews has been very vocal in expressing his readiness to withdraw from the presidential race in favor of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte.

Asked about speculation that Duterte-Carpio will later run for president in his place, Dela Rosa said, "E 'di mas maganda." 
 
(That will be better.) 

Dela Rosa himself admitted that he was picked as the party's presidential bet just 2 hours before the filing of candidacies closed on October 8.

Lakas-CMD, the party of former President Gloria Arroyo, also fielded unknown candidates Anna Capela Velasco and Lyle Fernando Uy for president and vice president, respectively. 

Secretary General Prospero Pichay Jr. admitted they were merely "placeholders" until November 15 on Monday, but denied the same thing Tuesday.

Still, Pichay said their party is open to adopt either Duterte-Carpio or former senator Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. 

Duterte-Carpio has repeatedly said she will not seek the presidency, while Marcos has filed his COC for president under the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas.

Caritos said voters do not usually take candidates who are perceived to be just party placeholders seriously.

This also affects the credibility of the political party, she said.

“It’s either to the detriment of other candidate or of the political party doing that strategy, or advantage din sya nung mga kalaban nitong kandidato na to na mas titingnan tuloy at mas pag-iisipan ng mga kandidato,” she said.

Politicians who would later come in as the replacement or final candidate of a political party may also be ill-prepared to hold the office they are seeking, Caritos said. 

She said the next leaders of the country are crucial in helping Filipinos recover from the pandemic.
 
“Ang dating is… yung the lack of preparation and the lack of planning. Lalo na 'pag president ang tinatakbuhan natin eh… At ito 'yung magiging nanay o tatay natin sa susunod na anim na taon sa kasaysayan ng bansa natin. 'Yun ang magiging effect e hindi pinagplanuhan at hindi pinag-isipan ang pagtakbo,” she said.

(Especially if they're running for President... They will be our mother or father in the next six years of our history. That will be the effect when there's no planning or discernment before running.)

Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, who is running for vice president, meanwhile said he sees some “abuse” by political groups of the period for substitution.

“The problem in the law is the third option which is “when a candidate withdraws”. That is what is being abused. We should amend that and remove it completely. If you are not ready and unprepared, why are you running for public office?... subject to all kinds of abuses. It should be amended,” Sotto said in a text message.

Aksyon Demokratiko Chairman Ernest Ramel, meanwhile, wonders how Lakas-CMD is still considering Marcos as its standard bearer when he already is the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas' presidential candidate.

He echoed Lente’s observations that certain political parties are now using the period of substitution as a political strategy.

“I agree with LENTE. As Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso repeatedly said: 'Para tayong tsinutsubibo ng mga pulitikong ito.'"

"Just proves their real intentions are to play politics rather than focus on the country's problems and the 110M Filipinos' daily struggles to find livelihood, jobs, food for their tables and solutions to the pandemic,” he said.

“I disagree with this practice and though admittedly some local candidates of the party may take advantage of this, we highly discourage such tactics or strategy if you will,” he added.

Lito Banayo, Domagos's campaign manager, called such a tactic a “mockery of the people’s sovereign right.”

“True, these politicians are using the loopholes of the Election Law and Comelec rules to make a mockery of the people’s sovereign right to choose their leaders wisely and properly. We in the Isko-Doc Willie camp condemns such blatant tomfoolery,” Banayo told ABS-CBN News.

Banayo said they do not believe in the substitution of candidates.

The electorate, he said, should reject candidates who would file their COCs as substitutes.

Duterte, the incumbent president, was a substitute PDP-Laban candidate in 2016.

“Walang tapat sa salita at tapat sa paninindigan kung gagawa ng ganyang mga kabulastugan (Those who do that don't stick to their words)- using the letter of the law to subvert the fundamental basis of democratic choice. People should reject any politician who is the object of such subterfuge.”
 
Ron Munsayac, Executive Director of the PDP-Laban wing led by Sen. Manny Pacquiao, also a presidential contender, said the underlying message of the latter's October 1 COC filing is to show the public how serious he is about leading the country.

Pacquiao was the first presidential candidate who filed his COC.

Munsayac, meanwhile, called on Dela Rosa to “pray and listen to your family” as he took a jab at the PDP-Laban wing backed Duterte and led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi for fielding the former National Police chief who, he said, is obviously unprepared for the race.

Munsayac said the other PDP-Laban faction is still waiting for either Duterte-Carpio or another candidate whom they can control.

“Tigilan na natin itong drama na mga substitution pa tayo. [May] konting drama na kesyo may mga clamor pa ng tao. Kumbaga sa tingin ko lang, napanood ko na 'to o nabasa na, luma na,” he said.

(Let's stop this drama of having a substition. There's that drama of having supposed public clamor. We've seen and read this before. This tactic is old.)

Melvin Matibag, Secretary-General of the PDP-Laban-Cusi wing, meanwhile, told their critics to blame the law that allows the period of substitution and that they should just raise their concerns before the Comelec.

“Kasi kung if it’s a mockery, kung mali 'yan, eh di sabihin natin sa Comelec, huwag na kayong maglagay ng ganyang period. Isang period na lang, pagkatapos ng October 8, wala na."

(If it's a mockery, if it's wrong, then let's tell Comelec to not allow it. Just one period [for filing COC], after October 8, no more.)

"But if it’s within the rules, in the resolution of the Comelec, then it stands fair free also. Pwede talaga 'yan. So let’s not judge any political party whether it’s PDP or not na nagkakaroon ng mockery.. nasa rules po 'yan eh,” Matibag said.

(It's allowed. So let’s not judge any political party whether it’s PDP or not that there's mockery. It's in the rule.)

“If the real intent of the Omnibus Election Code envisioned only those who will die along the way or be disqualified, then why didn’t the lawmakers just stated so? It’s that simple. If the law is clear there should be no room for interpretation."

"It’s not a mockery of the elections law if the political parties use every available legal option, or time, for them to finally decide the candidates to field. Comelec deadlines have a certain logic to them,” he added.

Dela Rosa on Monday also gave his thoughts about allegations that some parties are mocking the election process through substitution.

“Depende 'yan at (it depends) how you look at it. If it’s a mockery to you so be it; if it’s a strategy for you, so be it. As long as it is legal I have no problem about that,” dela Rosa said.

Dela Rosa admitted that Duterte has yet to talk to him after his COC filing last Friday.

He has also yet to receive further instructions from other party officials, he said.
 
Asked if he feels lost with the absence of party leaders’ instructions after his COC filing, Dela Rosa said, “Suffice it to say that I am humbled, I am honored na ako yung pinili ng partido at yung party deision na 'yan including kay Pangulong Duterte ay gusto niya na ako ang gusto niyang maging standard bearer ng PDP-Laban. Okay na ako.”

(Suffice it to say that I am humbled, I am honored that the party chose me and the party decision, including that of the President, was for me to be their standard bearer.)

Meanwhile, former senator Bam Aquino, Vice President Leni Robredo’s campaign manager, declined to comment on the matter.