Parties' adoption of 'common candidates' detrimental to voters' interests: analysts

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 18 2021 08:07 PM | Updated as of Oct 18 2021 08:20 PM

MANILA - Two analysts on Monday criticized the adoption by different political groups of "common" senatorial candidates in their respective lineups for the 2022 elections.

Former Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said this practice limits the choices of Filipino voters, while Atty. Michael Yusingco of the Ateneo Policy Center regards it as "the ugliness of patronage politics and the rottenness of our political party culture… front and center."

On Thursday, Sen. Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, who is running for president with Sen. Vicente "Tito" Sotto III as his running mate, named the following as part of their senatorial slate:

-Former Sen. Loren Legarda
-Former Sen. Francis "Chiz" Escudero
-Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel "Migz" Zubiri
-Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian
-Sen. Joel Villanueva
-Former Sen. JV Ejercito
-Sen. Richard Gordon
-PWD advocate and former media practitioner Paolo Capino
-Former Makati Rep. Monsour Del Rosario
-Opthalmologist Minguita Padilla

On Friday, his fellow senator and presidential aspirant Manny Pacquiao said that Zubiri, Villanueva, Escudero, and Legarda were also in his Senate slate.

Binay, Gordon, Escudero, Zubiri, Villanueva, and Escudero are also in Vice President Leni Robredo's senatorial lineup. Robredo is running for president, with Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan as her running mate.

Human rights lawyer Neri Colmenares and labor leader Elmer Labog are also in the slates of both Pacquiao, and labor-rights advocate and presidential aspirant Leody de Guzman.

Former Information and Communications Technology Secretary Gregorio "Gringo" Honasan, meanwhile, is also being adopted by both Lacson and the PDP-Laban wing backed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

"In terms of quality of legislation, these are the same faces, so we expect the same. Wala pong (There is no) infusion of new blood, new creativity and new wisdom coming from new leaders,” Sarmiento said of some of the 2022 aspirants.

"Sana po yung common candidates should also be addressed by Comelec, and Congress…They should be encouraged to participate. But because of the laws that are antiquated… ang dami pong batas na sa tingin ko dapat ipasa ng Kongreso,” he added.

Civil society groups, including the church, he said, must now participate in educating voters about the importance of their vote and how to choose the right set of leaders.

Voter’s education must be taught in elementary school, Sarmiento said.

Even the birth of political parties in the country that result in the the further weakening of the party system must also be addressed, he added.

“At any time, I can be sworn in as member of political party. But where was the political education? Where was the orientation that was done? Where was the pledge?... Dati-rati, may Liberal Party, may Nacionalista Party. Ngayon, napakarami na. Nagka-amoeba reproduction of political parties."

"So baka naman dapat balikan natin and review the wisdom of the two-party system of the Philippines,” Sarmiento said.

Sarmiento believes the Commission on Elections (Comelec) can correct the system by using its authority to decide on the fate of political groups.

Sarmiento said that if the Comelec can disqualify party-list groups, it can also disqualify candidates and/or political parties found violating election laws or the Constitution.

The Constitution, he notes, has given such power to the Comelec.

"Remember that we have the Oath of Office.. to serve the nation. 'Yan po ay nasa Constitution natin. Therefore, if that is not followed, that is a violation of the Constitution,” Sarmiento pointed out.

"If the Comelec under the Constitution has the power to register and accredit political parties, not only party-list organizations, it can also discredit or unregister or cancel a political party," he said. 

Yusingo said he is "embarrassed for our young voters to be burdened by" the "adoption" phenomenon.

“This kind of candidate sharing, for the lack of better term, this kind of arrangement pf candidate-sharing, for me, it raises a very serious alarm, particularly in our quest or desire for that roadmap towards that better normal,” he said.

Presidential candidates, Yusingco said, are expected to present their platform to address the pandemic, which must then be supported by their preferred senatorial bets.

The current situation where presidential candidates share common senatorial bets, begs the question of which platform or roadmap they will support, he said.

Even the loyalty of common senatorial bets is also a big question, he added. 

"On one hand, it can preserve the loyalty of, the independence of the Senate because none of them have the loyalty to the President if they win… Whoever wins cannot rely the loyalty of the senatoriable who won… But also, it can mean that the Senate will not be able to produce the laws and policies that we badly need towards that better normal,” he said.

For his part, Honasan said the adoption of a candidate by different groups is a case of "paramihan ng kaibigan" and the “commonality of platforms and programs.”

Despite this, Honasan assured the public that he will remain loyal to his advocacy of ensuring a better communication system for the country.

Zubiri also said his loyalty remains with the Filipino people.

"I still remain an independent candidate. At the end of the day, ang loyalty ko po ay sa taumbayan, hindi sa anumang partido. But as a team player, I am willing and able to work alongside anyone who shares in our goal of serving the Filipino people first. Muli, maraming salamat sa kanilang tiwala," Zubiri said.

Colmenares thanked Pacquiao and De Guzman for his inclusion in their Senate slates, and said that "the inclusion of pro-people candidates in the senatorial slates of different presidential candidates is certainly a very positive development."

Binay, meanwhile, said, "We need to build the broadest unity possible for the sake of our children, grandchildren, and future generations," as he thanked Lacson, Pacquiao, and Robredo for including him in their tickets.

Sarmiento also criticized political parties that seem to be using the period of substitution for candidates to their advantage.

Section 77 of the 1985-Omnibus Election Code--which allows the substitution of candidates when a recognized aspirant dies, has been disqualified, or has decided to withdraw from the race--should be amended, specifically, by removing the “withdrawal option," Sarmiento said.

“The problem is, you can take your oath of office to any party anytime, and say, 'I am supported behind by this political party'. Where are now the party’s platform of good government, purposes and objectives?" Sarmiento said.

"'Yan ba ay napag-aralan ng, una, ng ating kandidato when he joined that political party?"

"If the withdrawal is only... for substitution, it should be changed," he added.

Sarmiento said he supports the bill of Cagayan de Oro City Congressman Rufus Rodriguez that incumbent officials with remaining years in office must be considered resigned the moment they file their Certificate of Candidacy for another office.

Yusingco, while echoing Sarmiento’s points, stressed the immense power of the Comelec to discipline political parties that are seemingly violating or mocking the election process.

Still, voters he said, can do their share to end this practice.

"If we point it out to our voters that the act of placing mere placeholders is a mockery of our democracy, then we should encourage them to punish those who practice this fielding of placeholders by not voting for them," Yusingco said.

“For the substitute, or for the entire lineup of that political party,” he added.

Political parties owe it to the public to be transparent in their selection process for their senatorial bets, he said.

Last week, Lakas-CMD secretary general and Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay told ABS-CBN News that the party's presidential and vice presidential bets are placeholders. 

He also said the party would welcome Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio as standard bearer in case she changes her mind about running.

PDP-Laban Cusi wing standard bearer Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa likewise said he would "by all means" withdraw his candidacy in the event that Duterte-Carpio decides to join the presidential race. 

Pangilinan also said he is "open" to be replaced as Robredo's running mate. 

An election lawyer has said that an admission by an aspirant that he is a "placeholder" can be a ground for the person to be considered as "nuisance."

"If you admit publicly that you are just a placeholder, and that you yourself has no intention to run, then actually, puwede ka pumasok doon sa definition ng nuisance candidate," said Atty. Emil Marañon, who previously worked as chief of staff of the late Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes.

"Nuisance candidate, under the law, ibig sabihin po noon, wala kang intensyon na sumali sa election but you're doing that for purposes such as making mockery out of the election system. Puwede ka file-an ng petition to declare as a nuisance candidate," he said.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said though that mere pronouncement of being a "placeholder" candidate "wouldn't be sufficient" as ground to declare the aspirant a "nuisance."

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