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MANILA, Philippines – The calendar set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the run-up to the October 2023 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE) did not sit well with at least one House lawmaker, who insisted that a “too early” period for the filing of candidacies may just tilt the polls in favor of wealthier politicians.
The filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) for the October 30 electoral exercise is from July 3 to 7, coinciding with the start of the official election period.
For comparison, COC filing for the May 14, 2018 barangay elections was held just around one month prior, from April 14 to 20.
“Setting the COC filing period too early may provide undue advantage to some candidates, especially those who have access to more resources and have established networks. This will be disadvantageous to other candidates, who may not have the means to prepare their campaigns that early,” Parañaque 2nd District Representative Gus Tambunting said on Thursday, March 2.
“I call on the Comelec to reconsider this plan and stick to the usual schedule of COC filing for the barangay and SK elections,” he added.
Unlike past elections, however, a premature campaigning ban would be in effect for the barangay polls, which means that elective aspirants will only be allowed to formally woo voters from October 19 to 28, three months after the COC filing period.
But Tambunting said he believes politicians would just find ways to get around the “unrealistic” premature campaigning ban anyway.
“It will be challenging to enforce this rule, and it may result in candidates trying to find loopholes to circumvent the prohibition,” Tambunting argued.
“As tensions tend to run high during elections, the longer period of campaigning may result in more heated exchanges and possible violent incidents. The longer period of political activity can also lead to an increase in the number of election-related offenses, further compromising the safety and security of our communities,” he added.
Comelec on the defensive
Reacting to Tambunting’s concerns, the election body said it would study the “very sensible and logical observations” made by the Parañaque congressman, but justified its decision.
“For one, the commission will be able to accept and resolve with dispatch disqualification and nuisance cases. Delay in the disposition thereof is a perennial concern especially considering the sheer volume and massiveness,” Comelec Chairman George Garcia argued.
The next round of barangay elections has long been delayed: It was supposed to be conducted in May 2020, but was postponed to December 2022, and then moved again to its current schedule in October 2023.
Advocates for clean elections have decried the delays, saying postponements deprive the voting public of their right to regularly elect a new set of leaders.
The October polls will be the first time since the release of a landmark 2009 Supreme Court ruling that the Comelec would go after premature campaigning violators.
This is after the poll body under Garcia’s leadership offered a fresh interpretation of Penera vs Comelec, a ruling that essentially took away the punishment for premature campaigning. (READ: Why ‘candidates’ can spend so much and not report it)
The Comelec said that the Peñera doctrine only applies to automated elections, and not manual ones like the upcoming village and youth polls. – with reports from Chris Burnet Ramos/Rappler.com