MANILA - As campaign jingles reverberate in barangays and colorful posters are pinned on every available space in open defiance of Comelec rules, some candidates need not lift a finger to attain power.
At least 845 local candidates are running unopposed, according to the Commission on Elections on Thursday, a day ahead of the start of the local campaign season.
For uncontested positions, candidates need only one vote in order to be declared winners in the upcoming polls.
Of this number, 516 are running unchallenged for key positions or seats that can be occupied by only one official: district representative, governor, vice governor, mayor, and vice mayor. They represent 14 percent of the 3,683 such positions.
The remaining 329 unopposed candidates are vying for positions with more than one seat, or those for provincial board members and city/municipal councilors. In all, the number of unopposed local candidates in the 2022 elections is 2% lower than the 861 total unopposed candidates in 2019.
One in every 10 local key positions will be occupied by an unchallenged candidate
Based on COMELEC’s data, one in every 10 (14%) of the 3,683 seats allocated for district representative, provincial governor, vice governor, city/municipal mayor, and vice mayor will be occupied by a candidate who is unopposed in the 2022 elections.
The vice mayoral post has the most unopposed candidates: 16 percent of the total seats allocated for the position will be occupied by candidates who are running unchallenged in 2022.
Meanwhile, 15% of the total seats for district representative, 11% for provincial governor, 14% for vice governor, and 12% for city/municipal mayor nationwide are also set to be taken by unopposed candidates.
‘No hope of any change’
Having unopposed candidates however, does not bode well for areas where the incumbent officials are not governing effectively in the first place, according to University of the Philippines Associate Professor of Political Science Jean Encinas-Franco.
“Especially if the municipality or the city is poor or does not have much resources, then it just shows that there’s no hope of any change in the next three years,” Franco said.
For Franco, there are two possible reasons why candidates in an area have no challengers: one, possible challengers might be discouraged from “entering the political frame” because they lack the resources to oppose the incumbent, and two, is a history of electoral violence in the area.
While unopposed candidates can argue that they’re not at fault, their style of governance could very well be a factor for the absence of any challengers in the polls, said Franco.
“Either may takot or talagang na-monopolize nila yung diskurso. Lahat ng spoils ng government nai-provide nila, halimbawa d’un sa mga constituents nila, na talagang nadi-discourage ang kalaban,” Franco said.
(“It’s either there’s fear or that they monopolize the discourse. They were able to provide all spoils from the government, for example, to their constituents, such that potential oppositors are really discouraged.”)
Last March 2, or prior to COMELEC’s release of its latest count of unopposed candidates, the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group was able to obtain a full list of unopposed candidates from the COMELEC Law Department. Here are the findings:
From mayor to councilors: No contest in 25 LGUs
There are 24 municipalities and a city whose candidates for mayor, vice mayor, and councilors are all unopposed: 13 municipalities in Mindanao, eight (including 1 city) in Luzon, and four in the Visayas.
In Tagaytay City, the only city in the list, the husband-and-wife tandem of incumbent 8th District Representative Abraham “Bambol” Tolentino and incumbent Mayor Agnes Tolentino are running unopposed for mayor and vice mayor, respectively, under the National Unity Party.
The city’s 10 candidates for councilor are also unopposed, including Bambol’s nephew Micko Tolentino.
This is the third consecutive elections that the Tolentinos have had no opponents. Bambol was unchallenged when he ran for Cavite 7th District Representative in 2016, and again in 2019, when he ran for representative of the newly established Cavite 8th District. His wife, Agnes, was likewise unopposed when she ran for Tagaytay City Mayor in 2016 and 2019.
Representative Tolentino attributed this to their good service, which he said, is appreciated by the constituents of Tagaytay City.
“Open naman e. We are in a democratic country. Kahit sino pwede magfile, tumakbo, lumaban,” Tolentino told ABS-CBN News in an interview.
“Pero, depende talaga yan sa serbisyo na binibigay sa mamamayan. Kung kuntento silang lahat, baka wala nang maglakas loob na mag aksaya pa ng panahon,” he added.
("We are open. We are in a democratic country. Anyone can file for candidacy, run in the elections, compete.
But it would really depend on the service provided to the people. If they're all satisfied, no one would waste the time [to challenge the incumbent].")
‘No opportunity for dissent’
But it is precisely the lack of challengers and alternative views that could lead to a loss of checks and balances, according to Franco.
“Nawawala yung opportunity for dissent, for checks and balances. So ‘yung mga tao within the municipality or the city think that everything is okay,” she said.
(The opportunity for dissent, for checks and balances, is lost. So the people within the municipality or the city think that everything is okay.”)
This she added, could also be the reason why people keep on voting for such candidates, and why others are discouraged from running.
Sulu takes the cake
Among all provinces however, Sulu takes the cake: not only does it have five municipalities with unopposed candidates from mayor down to councilors—the most in the country. The province’s top officials are also both unchallenged in their bid for reelection in May: they are the father-and-son tandem of incumbent Governor Abdusakur Tan and Vice Governor Abdusakur Tan II, who are both running under PDP-LABAN.
According to Governor Tan, they reached out to their political opponents and came to an agreement.
“Nagkaisa naman kami na mga tumatakbo rito. Sabi ko sa kanila, parang nakakahiya na naglalaban-laban tayo at hindi tayo nagkakaisa... At least, natanggap naman nila. So wala na kaming kalaban ngayon. Halos lahat, walang kalaban,” he said.
(“All the candidates here have come to an agreement. I explained to them that it’s embarrassing that we are competing against each other and divided. At least they acceded. So now, we have no opponents. Almost all of us are running unopposed.”)
But for Franco, this very situation where members of a political family occupy seats for different positions simultaneously could also be a reason why potential challengers are discouraged from running.
Even Governor Tan admitted that a lack of options could be disadvantageous to their constituents. But, he countered, no one is prohibiting their potential challengers from running anyway.
“Tingin ko, kumpiyansa naman sila sa ginagawa natin,” he said.
(I think, our constituents have confidence in our governance.”)
No contest for governor-vice governor tandems in five provinces
Aside from the Tans of Sulu, the governor-vice governor tandems in Agusan del Sur, Davao Occidental, Ilocos Sur, and Southern Leyte are also running unchallenged in 2022.
They include Ilocos Sur Vice Governor Jerry Singson and his nephew, Governor Ryan Singson, who will be switching positions in 2022 after occupying their respective positions for three consecutive terms. Ryan is the son of Narvacan, Ilocos Sur Mayor Chavit Singson while Jerry is Chavit’s brother. They are carrying the NPC and BILEG banners.
Meanwhile, the brother-sister tandem of Southern Leyte Governor Damian “Mian” Mercado, who is seeking reelection, and Rosa Emilia “Milai” Mercado, who is running for vice governor are running under PDP-LABAN.
There are also unopposed candidates for governor in four provinces (Apayao, Bataan, Davao Oriental, and Tarlac) and sure winners for vice governor in six provinces (Agusan del Norte, Biliran, Iloilo, Isabela, La Union, and Pampanga).
House seats assured for at least 38 candidates
Out of the 253 congressional seats this 19th Congress, one in every 10 (15%) candidates for district representative, or 38 candidates, are already assured of their seats, among them are 11 candidates from the National Unity Party and seven each from the Nationalist People’s Coalition and PDP-LABAN.
Among the 38 candidates who are assured of a seat in the lower chamber are returnees to the House: former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is seeking to reclaim her position as Pampanga 2nd District Representative after maxing out her term in 2019; outgoing Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, who is seeking to switch positions with his brother, 1st District Representative Weslie Gatchalian; and outgoing Senator Ralph Recto who is running for Batangas 6th District Representative.
Also among the shoo-ins for the House are reelectionists Boying Remulla (7th District, Cavite), House Majority Leader Martin Romualdez (1st District, Leyte), and House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (Lone District, Marinduque).
The 38 unopposed candidates for district representative are:
- Rex Gatchalian (NPC) - 1st District, Valenzuela City
- Ching Bernos (NP) - Lone District, Abra
- Leah Bulut-Begtang (PDPLBN) - Lone District, Apayao
- Kristine Singson (NPC) - 2nd District, Ilocos Sur
- Ian Dy (NPC) - 3rd District, Isabela
- Rommel Rico Teh Angara (LDP) - Lone District, Aurora
- Geraldine Roman (LAKAS) - 1st District, Bataan
- Carmelo Jon Lazatin (PDPLBN) - 1st District, Pampanga
- Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (LAKAS) - 2nd District. Pampanga
- Aurelio Dong Gonzales (PDPLBN) - 3rd District, Pampanga
- Ralph Recto (NP) - 6th District, Batangas
- AJ Advincula (NUP) - 3rd District, Cavite
- Antonio Ferrer (NUP) - 6th District, Cavite
- Boying Remulla (NUP) - 7th District, Cavite
- Jack Duavit (NPC) - 1st District, Rizal
- Romeo Acop (NUP) - 2nd District, City of Antipolo, Rizal
- Lord Allan Velasco (PDPLBN) - Lone District, Marinduque
- Fernando Cabredo (NUP) - 3rd District, Albay
- Ginggo Valmayor (NPC) - 1st District, Negros Occidental
- Thirdy Marañon (NUP) - 2nd District, Negros Occidental
- Juliet Marie Ferrer (NUP) - 4th District, Negros Occidental
- Mercedes Alvarez (NPC) - 6th District, Negros Occidental
- Mike Gorriceta (NP) - 2nd District, Iloilo
- Rhea Gullas NP) - 1st District, Cebu
- PJ Garcia( NUP) - 3rd District, Cebu
- Peter John Calderon (NPC) - 7th District, Cebu
- Lolypop Ouano-Dizon (PDPLBN) - Lone District, Mandaue City, Cebu
- Josy Limkaichong (LP) 1st District, Negros Oriental
- Gerryboy Espina (LAKAS) - Lone District, Biliran
- Martin Romualdez (LAKAS) - 1st District, Leyte
- Anna Veloso-Tuazon (NUP) - 3rd District, Leyte
- Carl Cari (PDPLBN) - 5th District, Leyte
- Nelson Dayanghirang (NP) - 1st District, Davao Oriental
- Claude Bautista (HNP) - Lone District, Davao Occidental
- Alfel Bascug (NUP) - 1st District, Agusan Del Sur
- Eddiebong Plaza (NUP) - 2nd District, Agusan Del Sur
- Samier Tan (PDPLBN) - 1st District, Sulu
- Munir Arbison Jr. (LAKAS) - 2nd District, Sulu
No contest for mayor-vice mayor tandems in 11 cities and 128 municipalities
The 25 cities and municipalities where the candidates for mayor down to councilors are all running unopposed are just among the 139 local government units (128 municipalities and 11 cities) whose mayor-and-vice mayor tandems are unchallenged in the upcoming polls.
Of the 11 cities whose candidates for mayor and vice mayor are both unopposed, five are in Luzon, four are in the Visayas (all are in Negros Occidental), and two are in Mindanao.
Aside from Tagaytay City, there will be no contest as well for the mayor-vice mayor tandem of Luis Ferrer IV and Jonas Labuguen in General Trias in Cavite. In Negros Occidental, there will be no contest for the mayor and vice mayor positions in four cities: Bago, Sagay, San Carlos, and Sipalay.
Two cities in Mindanao also have unopposed candidates for mayor and vice mayor: Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte and Bayugan, Agusan del Sur whose candidates, Kirk Asis and Kim Lope “Bobong” Asis, are siblings.
Aside from these areas, two other cities also have unopposed candidates for mayor: City of Masbate, Masbate and Canlaon City, Negros Oriental whose candidate for mayor, Socrates Tuason, is a former mayor of Masbate City and the husband of the current city mayor Rowena Tuason.
Eleven other cities have unopposed candidates for vice mayor. Among them is incumbent Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos, who is now on her second term and is running unchallenged for vice mayor in 2022.
NCR has the fewest unopposed candidates; BARMM, CAR have the most
Among all the regions of the country, the National Capital Region has the fewest unopposed candidates, with only two: incumbent Mandaluyong Mayor Menchie Abalos who is running for vice mayor, and outgoing Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, who is running for the city’s 1st District Representative, a post that has been occupied by his brother Weslie for two terms now. Weslie in turn, is seeking the mayoralty.
In contrast, the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) has the most candidates who have no challengers, with 143 candidates or 11.24% of the 1,272 total local seats up for grabs in the region.
According to Franco, it’s easier for challengers to emerge in Metro Manila because “it’s not easy for politicians to monopolize the discourse and narrative” in the region as voters here have more access to information.
In BARMM however, people have less access to information and it's also a region where political dynasties are well entrenched and a lot of incidents of electoral violence are recorded, she added.
Sulu, Abra lead provinces with the most unchallenged candidates
Among the provinces, Sulu leads with 76 unopposed local candidates, or 37% of its 204 local seats. Abra follows with 56 candidates or 20% of the total 281 local seats up for grabs in the province. Aside from Sulu, six other provinces in Mindanao belong to the top 10 provinces with the most unopposed candidates: Agusan del Sur, Misamis Occidental, Tawi-Tawi, Lanao del Sur, Davao Occidental, and Lanao del Norte.
—with reporting from Arra Perez and Che Delos Reyes, ABS-CBN