Confessed placeholders not automatically considered nuisance bets – Comelec

Some political parties and aspirants have acknowledged fielding or being a "placeholder" to someone else ahead of the November 15 substitution deadline for the 2022 elections, but the Philippines' election body said it was not enough basis to cancel their candidacy papers.

"A mere declaration to the contrary wouldn't, in my opinion, be sufficient to overcome the intention to run which is manifested in the verified certificate of candidacy (COC)," Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez said on Wednesday, October 13.

"The lack of a bona fide intention to run needs to be proven," he added.

The statement came after Lakas-CMD, party of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, admitted fielding a placeholder candidate, in the event that Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio drops her reelection bid and guns for Malacañang.

President Rodrigo Duterte's once-drug war implementer, former police chief and now-senator Ronald "Bato" Dela Rosa, who filed his COC under the banner of ruling party PDP-Laban, also said he was open to give way to the president's daughter if she makes the buzzer-beater move for the presidency.`

The filing of COCs ended on October 8, but names of people like Duterte-Carpio could still make it to the final list of presidential candidates, should she seek to replace a withdrawing aspirant nominated by a party ahead of the November 15 deadline.

'Abuse' of the substitution scheme

Lawmakers, some of whom were once-allies of the president, already flagged the "abuse" of the substitution scheme.

"The problem... 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?" asked Senate Presidente Vicente Sotto III, who filed his papers for vice president on October 6.

"[T]hat period was given for serious contingencies... and was not meant to be part of strategies and tactics. [The practice of substitution] appears to have been abused if the fielding of 'fake candidates' was intentionally done," said Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, another former close ally of the president.

In the lower chamber, House Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez said he would file bills pushing for an "almost absolute ban" on the substitution of aspirants for elective posts.

Nuisance candidate?

Notwithstanding the Comelec's statement, party-list group Bayan Muna still wants the poll body not to take placeholder aspirants seriously.

"We are challenging the Comelec to immediately declare these placeholder candidates as nuisance for making a mockery of the election process and insulting the intelligence of voters,. These candidates should even be punished for this election atrocity," said House Deputy Minority Leader Carlos Zarate.

Former Comelec commissioner Luie Guia, meanwhile, pointed to Section 69 of the Omnibus Election Code, which said that the poll body may cancel a COC of a person who has shown that they have "no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the COC has been filed."

"The symbolism of filing a COC is actually announcing to the people, your bosses, to 'please consider me for the position.' You have to have full sincerity in making true whatever you declared in your COC," Guia told Rappler.

"If you do not have a bona fide intention to run, you are among those considered a nuisance candidate," he added.

Substitution brouhaha

Offering a counter perspective, Guia said the substitution saga does not have to be a spectacle.

"Elections are about people who will vote, not for candidates. I think we're making a hullabaloo when we know that the deadline for substitution is November 15," Guia argued.

"There is too much issue about something that's just discomfort more than anything else," he added.

As the potential last-minute Palace bid by Duterte-Carpio remains on the table, poll watchdog Kontra Daya told Rappler it remains to be seen whether the "reluctant candidate" narrative will work this time around, similar to her father's in the 2016 polls.

"The same drama may work depending on how you tell the story," Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao said. "Sometimes, things can get predictable. But like with Korean dramas, it is the manner in which the story is told."

"We can only hope that people will see through the drama and treat elections as more than just a reality show," he added. – Rappler.com