MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) bent its rules for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) to favor the huge contingent of Special Assistant to the President Bong Go, who was accompanied by President Rodrigo Duterte in filing his COC.
The Comelec is supposed to be an independent constitutional body.
The Comelec earlier restricted candidates to 4 companions each, but Go filed his COC with a delegation that included Duterte, former and current Cabinet members, and more than two dozen supporters and staff.
When asked about his huge number of companions, Go said in an interview with reporters: "Hindi ko masasagot 'yan. Meron po tayong Comelec dito. Nandito po ang mga opisyales ng Comelec, sila po ang makakasagot niyan." (I cannot answer that. We have the Comelec here. The officials of the Comelec are here, they can answer that.)
In a press conference after Go filed his COC, Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez explained, "The safety of our President is paramount so allowances had to be made."
When asked if special treatment was given, Jimenez said, "To the extent that special allowances had to be made considering the personalities involved, yes."
Limiting media's movements
To make way for Go's COC filing, for instance, the Comelec required media to vacate the first two rows in the media area. After a while, journalists tried to occupy these seats again, only to be asked to leave.
Members of Malacañang's Media Accreditation and Relations Office (MARO) and the Presidential Security Group also limited the movement of media inside the media area. Journalists were advised to stay put in their seats, and not to cross from the COC filing area and the press conference area, and vice versa.
This was to accommodate Go's guests, who included Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, and other top officials.
They did not limit the movement of Go's supporters, many of whom were wearing their campaign color of red. The supporters had positioned themselves before 10 am, taking up the entire space in front of the Comelec main office, for around two hours of preparations. They left as soon as Go was done filing his COC.
When asked why the Comelec, an independent agency, adjusted its rules based on partisan considerations, Jimenez answered, "We adjusted, yes."
"But the basis is not partisan politics. The basis is not political party. The basis is reality. And you saw for yourself how many people were here. You can probably imagine how difficult it would be to stand off with them," Jimenez said.
"It would unduly hamper the proceedings. So I think the decision was made based on pragmatic considerations," he added.
On whether there is a penalty for violators of the 4-companion rule, Jimenez said, "That will have to be determined later on by appropriate authorities, by someone higher up than us."
On whether the Comelec will allow other candidates to bring huge contingents in the coming days, he added: "We will have to make sure that our entry point is better equipped to prevent these kinds of happenings. That's the fault, I think, we'll primarily be looking at. That's where we'll find the weakness in the system that we set up." – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.