The next step is to keep our eyes on the politicians who will be filing their certificates of candidacy. Candidates for the Senatorial and Party-List Member of the House of Representative races have from January 15 to February 12, 2007 to file their certificates of candidacy. Candidates for all other races (local elective positions) have until March 29, 2007.
Once a politician files a certificate of candidacy, he is automatically considered entitled to the privileges of a candidate, as well as the duties and responsibilities of one. At this point, the most important duty is for the candidate to tear down any poster, streamer, or similar sort of publicity materials he may have erected or posted before he filed his certificate of candidacy.
Think “Merry Christmas / Happy Birthday / etc Greetings from (fill in the blank)!”
I was interviewed on this today – on ANC – just after another interview with Rep. Liza Hontiveros-Baraquel. She thinks that these holiday or birthday or congratulatory greetings and what not are thinly veiled campaign efforts. This gives incumbent politicians a huge advantage over their opponents, obviously. And so, she proposes that we ought to have a law that prohibits politicians from putting up their faces and names on posters and such, in order to remove this advantage.
There is a whole lot of good common sense in her suggestion, and such a law will definitely contribute to a level playing field. However, in coming up with that law, I think we should be careful to ensure that the cure doesn’t turn out to be as bad as the disease.
You see, despite all these publicity materials, these incumbent politicians may not even run at all. We all take for granted that we understand the behavior of pols and that we can read their intentions, but we can’t say what they will eventually end up doing with any sort of certainty until they themselves reveal their plans. More simply put, they may be making all the right noises but they might not even run in the next elections. In that case – if they don’t run – then all those posters they put will have been sincere expressions of their feelings.
Naive? Possibly. But it’s those things called presumption of innocence, and free speech. We can’t assume that these incumbent politicians are maliciously campaigning ahead of time – we must assume that their greetings stand for nothing more than just greetings; and we can’t pass a law that’ll prohibit them from expressing themselves simply on the presumption that they are committing an election offense.
Any law that prohibits incumbent politicians from putting up these publicity materials outside the campaign must find a way of satisfying the basic requirements of presumption of innocence and the protection of free speech in order for it to work.
In the meantime that our legislators haven’t yet come up with a way to pass Rep. Baraquel’s law without violating those two basic requirements, we’re stuck with the way things are.
Stuck but, I’d like to emphasize, not helpless.
As I said earlier, once an incumbent politician – or any politician for that matter – has filed a certificate of candidacy he must tear down any publicity materials he may have put up. If he doesn’t, he can be held liable for an election offense. The problem the COMELEC has is that we don’t have nearly enough people to montior compliance with this rule. And that’s where we must turn to citizens – whether of voting age or not, whether registered or not – for help.
If you know of a politician who put up publicity materials and who has since filed a certificate of candidacy, watch out for his posters and stuff. If three days after his filing – that’s when he announces his candidacy – those posters and things are still up, let the COMELEC know. Post a comment in this blog or email us or call us, and we will do our best to set things right.
Just a word of caution, though. All reports will have to be validated, and in all cases, the criminal liability of the politician has to be established in accordance with due process. So, results will not be instantaneous.
A final note: Rep. Baraquel’s proposed law is a really really good idea, but it’s not exactly a new idea. And so I must wonder, why is this being brought up only now? Proposals such as these – proposals that really meet the definition of electoral reform – should be tackled by Congress sooner rather than later if Congress is really serious about reform. So is Congress serious? Rep. Baraquel herself sounded skeptical on that question, so go figure.