Stretching the rules: Duterte Youth’s bid for Congress

Sofia Tomacruz

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Stretching the rules: Duterte Youth’s bid for Congress
The twists and turns of Duterte Youth have been widely criticized across the political spectrum, but the group isn't done yet

MANILA, Philippines – Virtually unknown before the Duterte administration, former National Youth Commission (NYC) chair Ronald Cardema sparked controversy over his attempts to stretch the law and gain a seat in the 18th Congress.

Criticized for failing to resign from his government post as NYC chair, filing for substitution as the first nominee for Duterte Youth on the eve of elections, and then found to have violated Philippine election laws – Cardema has not stopped in his bid to be a part of the House of Representatives.

Cardema’s latest move saw him dead set on taking a seat in the Lower House as he appealed to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc to reconsider his nomination. This, despite a decision from the Comelec 1st division to cancel it. 

The twists and turns of Duterte Youth have been widely criticized across the political spectrum but the group isn’t done yet. The party’s efforts to enter Congress also show how its actions have been executed at the last minute several times and repeatedly questioned by the poll body. 

How did it all start and where is it at now?

DUTERTE YOUTH. Members of Duterte Youth file their nominations at the Comelec for the 2019 elections. File photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

October 19, 2018

Duterte Youth’s nominees file their certificates of nomination and acceptance (CONA). Among those listed as the party’s nominees are the following: Ducielle Suarez Cardema, Joseph De Guzman, Benilda De Guzman, Arnaldo Villafranca, and Elizabeth Cardema.  

Duterte Youth is the second to the last party to file its CONA on the last day of filing of candidacies for the 2019 midterm elections, beating the 5 pm deadline on October 19, 2018. 

POLL BODY. The Commission on Elections headquarters at the Palacio Del Gobernador in Intramuros, Manila. Photo by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

May 12, 2019

After little noise from the party, Duterte Youth’s original nominees simultaneously withdraw their nominations on Sunday, May 12 – the eve of elections. At the same time, Duterte Youth chairman Ronald Cardema files for subsitution as the party’s first nominee past office hours at 5:30 pm on Sunday.

Along with Cardema, others listed as Duterte Youth’s substitute nominees include Gian Carlo Galang, Catherine Santos, Kerwin Pagaran, Sharah Shane Makabali, and Allan Kevin Payawal.

May 17, 2019

The news of Cardema’s filing is brought to light by Kabataan representative Sarah Elago, who called out Cardema for his last minute filing for substitution. 

Questions regarding the propriety of the timing of Cardema’s substitution are also raised, considering that nominees with government positions were deemed resigned after filing their certificates of candidacy in October 2018.

The Comelec initially says Cardema can no longer be considered a susbstitute nominee for Duterte Youth as he missed the deadline for filing petitions for substitutions. 

“We have published rules for that….The period for substitution has already lapsed,” Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez tells rerporters in a presscon on the sidelines of canvassing of votes for the May 2019 elections. 

UPDATES. Comelec Director Frances Arabe briefs the media on the sidelines of the canvassing of official results in the 2019 elections. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

May 18, 2019

The Comelec backtracks and clarifies that Duterte Youth’s nominees, along with Cardema, actually met the deadline for filing petitions for substitutions. 

Comelec Director Francis Arabe says this is because unlike senatorial candidates who had only until November 2018 to file for substitution, party list nominees had up until before the closing of polls on election day to file petitions for substitution due to withdrawal.

May 19, 2019

Malacañang says Cardema effectively “abandoned” his post as NYC chair by seeking to become Duterte Youth’s nominee in the party-list elections. 

As the Comelec was still deciding on how to act on Cardema’s substitution bid, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo says regardless of the poll body’s decision, Cardema is out of the NYC. 

“We deem that Mr Cardema has already abandoned his present position because his act of filing the petition absolutely reflects his intention to relinquish his office and exposes his desire to serve the government in a different capacity,” Panelo says.

Malacañang directs Cardema to vacate his office and turn over all official papers, documents, and properties in his possession to the Office of the President. 

POLL COMMISSIONERS. In this photo Comelec commissioners (L-R) Al Parreño, Marlon Casquejo, Antonio Kho, and poll chairman Sheriff Abas are seen in the canvassing of official election results. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

May 20, 2019

Election watchdogs and youth groups question Cardema’s moves, saying he and Duterte Youth violated election laws and the poll body’s own rules.

Election watchdog Kontra Daya, leaders from the National Union of Students of the Philippines, College Editors Guild of the Philippines, Youth Act Now Against Tyranny, Tindig-University of Santo Tomas, and the University of the Philippines Student Regent Ivy Taroma file the first petition against Cardema, asking the Comelec to junk the petition for withdrawal filed by Duterte Youth’s 5 original nominees.

The group argues Cardema does not meet the qualification needed to become a party-list nominee for the youth sector as he is overage. The Party-List Act mandates that representatives of the youth sector must be at least 25 years old, but not more than 30 years old on election day. Cardema is 34 years old.

Despite no decision from the Comelec en banc on his susbtitution bid – and days before the winning party-lists in the 2019 elections are proclaimed – Cardema decides to declare himself on social media as an incoming congressman

May 21, 2019

Cardema’s actions continue to spark criticism. His substitution bid is questioned by former NYC officials such as former youth commission chair Ice Seguerra and former NYC commissioner and actor Dingdong Dantes

Nakakalungkot na bilang pangunahing representante ng kabataan ay lumalabas na nakikisali siya sa pag-abuso at pag-circumvent sa party-list system. Gusto man nating isipin na totoo ang kanyang hangarin, marami siyang dapat ipaliwanag,” says Dantes.  

(It’s unfortunate that as primary representative of the youth, it appears that he’s among those abusing and circumventing the party-list system. While I would want to think that his intentions are pure, he has a lot to explain.)

CHALLENGES RAISED. Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon raises questions about Duterte Youth chair Ronald Cardema's qualifications to become a youth sector representative in the Lower House. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

May 22, 2019

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon speaks out and raises questions about the qualifications of Cardema to serve as youth sector representative in Congress.

“In the certificate of candidacy form of Cardema, he stated that he is qualified. But is he not over 30 years old?” Guanzon says on Twitter. 

Guanzon then asks when Ducielle Suarez Cardema – Ronald Cardema’s wife and the party-list first nominee whom he replaced – was born. She said: “For substitution to be valid, the one being substituted must be qualified in the first place.”

On Suarez Cardema’s certificate of nomination and acceptance, she lists her birthday as September 20, 1990, making her 28 years old at the time of filing.

Meanwhile, another petition is filed against Cardema. 

Election lawyers Emilio Marañon III and Ernelson Trojillo, along with youth group Millennials PH, ask the poll body to deny the withdrawal of Duterte Youth’s 5 original nominees and reject the last-minute substitution bid filed by Cardema. 


Later, the Comelec en banc, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, proclaims the winning party lists in the 2019 elections. Among them is Duterte Youth, which gained enough votes to take one seat in Congress.

Despite the proclamation of winners, the Comelec does not release a decision on Cardema’s substitution bid. 

POLL BODY SPOKESMAN. Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez answers questions during a press conference with reporters. File photo by Angie de Silva /Rappler

May 24, 2019

Nearly two weeks after filing for substitution, several petitions against Cardema are filed at the Comelec. 

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez says more than 10 petitions have been filed before the poll body as of Friday, May 24. 


June 4, 2019

The Comelec en banc decides to give due course to Cardema’s substitution bid. 

“The substitution bid of Ronald Cardema as Duterte Youth nominee has been approved, with one Commissioner dissenting and one abstention,” says Jimenez. 

In a resolution, the Comelec en banc adopts the recommendation of the poll body’s law department to accept the withdrawal and give due course to the substitution of all nominees of Duterte Youth party. 

SUBSTITUTION APPROVED. Duterte Youth chair Ronald Cardema's substitution is given due course by the Comelec en banc. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Guanzon dissents, saying Cardema’s bid is an “unabashed mockery and assault to our democratic processes.” She adds that Cardema cannot sit in Congress until issues on his qualification are resolved. 

Meanwhile, Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia abstains from the ruling, giving due course to Cardema’s nomination. Guia says he abstained “to be consistent with my earlier vote to deny the accreditation” of Duterte Youth.

ABSTAIN. Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia abstains in the decision to give due course to the substitution of Duterte Youth chair Ronald Cardema. Photo courtesy of Comelec

June 6, 2019

In his dissenting opinion dated January 28 and given to media June 6, Guia says Duterte Youth was late in submitting the required documents in its motion for reconsideration, and that its excuse of “unintentional oversight” was not enough. 

Cardema’s party had apparently appealed before the 7-member en banc, an earlier decision of the Comelec 2nd Division denying Duterte Youth’s accreditation. The en banc overturned the 2nd Division’s ruling and allowed Duterte Youth to join the party-list elections.

FORMER NYC REPRESENTATIVES. Former NYC chairpersons (L-R) Gio Tingson, Leon Flores, and Ice Seguerra call for an 'outright dismissal' of Duterte Youth chair Ronald Cardema's congressional bid. File photo of Tingson and Flores by Rappler; Photo of Seguerra by Martin San Diego/Rappler

June 10, 2019

Former NYC officials join calls urging the Comelec to junk Cardema’s congressional bid.

In a letter released to media on Monday, June 10, former NYC chairpersons Ice Seguerra, Gio Tingson, and Leon Flores III, along with former commissioners Dantes, Perci Cendana, JP Peñol, and Erwin Andaya argue that Cardema and other nominees of the party failed to meet the requirements needed to represent the youth sector in Congress.

The former NYC officials warn that if Cardema and other nominees’ qualifications are overlooked, the youth would lose “genuine representation” in Congress. 

June 11, 2019

A week after deciding to give Cardema’s substituion due course, the Comelec holds a hearing on Cardema’s qualifications to serve as 18th Congress representative. 

Found to breach the age limit during the hearing, Cardema changes his tune and says that he now represents professionals instead of the youth sector. 

Marañon says Cardema’s nomination should be canceled due to the misrepresentation. 

ELECTION EXPERTS. Veteran election lawyers (L-R) Romulo Macalintal and former poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr support calls urging the Comelec to reject Duterte Youth chair Ronald Cardema's congressional bid. Photo of Macalintal by Angie de Silva/Rappler; Photo of Brillantes by Roy Lagarde/Rappler

June 17, 2019

Veteran election experts Romulo Macalintal and former poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr back calls of groups urging the Comelec to junk Cardema’s bid.

The two election experts file before the poll body on Monday, a manifestation seeking to deny due course or cancel Cardema’s nomination as the party’s first nominee and suspend or withhold his certificate of proclamation. They are joined by Marañon and youth group Millennials PH. 

June 19, 2019

The Comelec en banc decides to hold off on issuing a certificate of proclamation to the party due to pending cases questioning Cardema’s qualifications.

CANCELED. The Comelec 1st Division decides to cancel the nomination of Duterte Youth chair Ronald Cardema after he is found to be unqualified to represent the youth in Congress. File photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

August 5, 2019

Nearly a month after deciding to give Cardema’s subsitution due course, the Comelec 1st Division decides to cancel the Duterte Youth chairman’s nomination as first nominee of the party.

The poll body division votes 2-0 in favor of petitons against Cardema, which argued he did not meet the qualifications to serve as representative of the youth sector in Congress. The third member of the division was away.

In a separate concurring opinion, Guanzon says Cardema’s last-minute nomination showed a “clear attempt” to circumvent election laws and the poll body’s rules.

The fiery commissioner adds the “across-the-board withdrawal” of all 5 original nominees of Duterte Youth along with the subsequent nomination of Cardema on the eve of elections “speak resoundingly of a clear attempt, not just to circumvent the law and the rules but also to hide from the electorate Cardema’s ineligibility as a nominee of Duterte Youth.” 

While the decision is a setback for Cardema, he can still appeal the 1st Division’s ruling with the Comelec en banc. 

August 6, 2019 

The rest of Duterte Youth’s substitute nominees withdraw their nominations while the party files another set of susbtitute nominees for the second time.

Depsite the cancellation of his nomination, Cardema is listed as the part’s first nominee again. He is followed by his wife, Ducielle Suarez Cardema, who files for nomination once more despite withdrawing her bid earlier in May. Suarez is listed as second nominee. 

Along with the Cardemas, Guillermo Villareal Jr, Krizza Reyes, and Robert Garcia also file for substitution with the Comelec on Tuesday, August 6. 

YOUTH PARTY. Duterte Youth members pose with President Rodrigo Duterte in Malacañang. Photo from Duterte Youth

August 7, 2019

Guanzon announces she has filed a memorandum with the poll body’s law department to probe into whether or not Cardema committed material misrepresentation in filing his nomination.

If the law department finds grounds that Cardema committed material misrepresentation in his CONA, Guanzon says a criminal case would be filed against him for violating the Omnibus Election Code.

August 12, 2019

Brillantes, Marañon, and Millennials PH file a petition before the Comelec opposing Duterte Youth’s second withdrawal and substitution of nominees.

The group urges the poll body to deny due course to Duterte Youth’s withdrawal and filing of substitution for new nominees. 

“This…wave of ‘merry-go-round’ nominees of Duterte Youth is not just a clear violation of Republic Act No. 7941 and applicable jurisprudence, but a blatant insult to the intelligence of this Commission and of the whole nation, thus, should not be allowed at all costs,” they said. 


August 13, 2019

Guanzon says the poll body has yet to act on Duterte Youth’s second filing of new substitute nominees, following the cancellation of Cardema’s nomination. 

Meanwhile, Cardema files a motion for reconsideration asking the Comelec en banc to reconsider the cancellation of his nomination as Duterte Youth’s first nominee.

Cardema argues he meets qualifications to sit as a representative in Congress and says the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, not the Comelec, should decide on his case. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.