The 2016 national and local elections (NLE) are set to happen on May 9 this year. The campaign period for national positions (i.e. president, vice president, senators, party list groups) officially began on February 9, and is set to end on May 7, marking 90 days of campaigning. On the other hand, the campaign period for the House of Representatives as well as other regional and local positions is set to begin on March 25, ending also on May 7.
Ideally, the campaign period allows candidates to express their competencies and platforms on issues that press our nation, allowing voters to make informed decisions on who will best lead the country. However, numerous issues affect campaigning. While not necessarily unlawful, such contentions may ultimately undermine the integrity of the process.
Premature campaigning or not?
A portion of Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any party, or association of persons, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the campaign period. Provided, that political parties may hold political conventions or meetings to nominate their official candidates within  days before the commencement of the campaign period and  days for Presidential and Vice-Presidential election.”
While campaign period officially began on February 9 for national positions, some national candidates had already released advertisements, media statements, posters, and other paraphernalia months prior. However, since the Supreme Court’s ruling on November 25, 2009 to reverse the disqualification of Mayor Rosalinda Penera of Sta. Monica, Surigao del Norte, candidates have effectively been allowed to campaign ahead of campaign period. In the decision, it was ruled that premature campaigning is no longer considered an offense under the Republic Act (RA) 8436 or the Automated Election Law, as amended by RA 9369.
Dr. Antonio Contreras, professor from the Political Science Department, shares his belief that the law itself needs to be changed regarding this issue. “There can be no premature campaigning when the campaign period has not started yet,” he explains. “They’re already candidates because they already filed their certificates of candidacy, but if they do not say ‘Vote for me for Senator’ or ‘Vote for me for President’, then it is not something considered premature campaigning. That is very strange,” he adds.
Currently, election regulations allow any form of advertising and self-promotion by official candidates prior to the campaign period as long as they do not mention the position they intend to run for, which means the length of time between filing of certificates of candidacy and the official campaign period is a virtual free-for-all. Contreras argues that it “cuts the power of the law” because people may get away with what is essentially, but not technically, premature campaigning.
Javad Heydarian, also a professor from the Political Science Department, also shares, “It is really up to the [Commission on Elections] (Comelec) to decide whether there has been [premature campaigning]. Of course, our suspicion is in one way or another, a lot of candidates have been engaged in premature campaigning.”
Dr. Contreras describes that there is a need to regulate campaigns, and that duration is one factor that needs to be limited. “It’s part of regulation. They have to regulate not only the manner by which people have campaigned or to set the duration when they would campaign, they could also set maximum expenses — those are things that you need to regulate,” he illustrates.
Under Section 6 of the Fair Elections Act or RA 9006, which pertains to the equal access of media time and space among electoral candidates, each candidate is allowed only 120 minutes’ worth of television advertisements and 180 minutes’ worth of radio advertisements, whether by purchase or donation. Print advertisements should be one-fourth of a page at most in broadsheets, or no more than one-half of a tabloid page thrice a week per newspaper, magazine, or other publication.
On the other hand, RA 7166 (“An act providing for synchronized national and local elections and for electoral reforms, authorizing appropriations therefor, and for other purposes”) prescribes the maximum expenses for each political aspirant. Candidates running for President and Vice President may spend a maximum of P10 per registered voter, the total number of which is estimated at 54.6 million people this year. Other candidates running under political parties may spend a maximum of P3 for every voter registered in the constituency where the candidate had filed his certificate of candidacy, while those running independently can spend a maximum of P5 for every such voter. Political parties may spend P5 for every voter currently registered in the constituencies where it has official candidates.
Dr. Contreras shares that the main reason why regulating the campaign period is necessary in the first place is to prevent candidates from having undue advantages over each other, as well as to level the playing field.
“Part of the limitation would be there must be a formal time to campaign,” he explains. “That is to prevent people from having undue advantage — that those who have more money can spend [earlier], while those who don’t can spend less in a shorter period.”
He further compares the election to a race, where participants must start at the same time. As to whether the race is unequal, Dr. Contreras states that since people already know who is running, there is no advantage or disadvantage in terms of the presidentiables, at least. However, he points out that some candidates have an advantage in that they utilize governmental funds for their campaigns, without technically campaigning prematurely. He posits, “One of the ways to stop this advantage is that any public official sitting on a different position who declares to run for a position must resign, unless you are [running] for re-election [for the same post].”
Good and bad: Campaign and the electorate
While campaign period is centered on the promotion of candidates and parties, the methods through which such promotions are carried out and the way voters respond affect the outcome of the elections. As such, it is often hoped for that campaigns are carried out in the most ideal way, and that voters would be able to participate effectively.
Heydarian states that candidates going to far-flung places to campaign and that candidates from outside the National Capital Region are able to join the race are positive aspects. However, he expresses the need for more debates between candidates and building of support from their parties.
“As someone who always watches the American elections ever since 2008, I’m disappointed that we don’t have anything similar to primaries,” he shares. “You have candidates from each party going around the country and building up support among their own party constituencies before they’ll be elected as the nominee of the party, and along the way you see dozens of debates which allows the voters to see how the candidates perform under pressure, how they explain their cases, whether they have grasp of the issues,” he describes.
He laments that under Philippine campaign laws, there are only three Comelec-organized debates among presidentiables, but expresses that it is an improvement that a presidential debate was held last February 21, the first in 24 years.
Meanwhile, Dr. Contreras observes that one positive aspect of the current campaign period is the increase of awareness among the population due to the prominence of social media. “It’s not easy for [the people] to simply be conditioned or [for propaganda to be applied on them]. There are so many other sources of information for them to verify, to know more.” Dr. Contreras explains, “[For information] that are not already covered in traditional media, they will simply look at the social media.”
On the other hand, Dr. Contreras laments that campaigns have remained focused on personalities of candidates instead of the issues at hand. “The disadvantage is that it’s so personalistic. Campaign [focuses] not so much on the issues, but more on personalities. There’s so much mud being thrown around. There is so much negative campaigning,” he describes.
Heydarian also emphasizes the significance of political parties in campaign period, particularly in its role in funding candidates and generating accountability. He explains, “The reason why political parties are important is because [of] fund-raising. You raise the funds from the members, and you are accountable to your members, and your party should have clear platforms.” According to Heydarian, this is so that when people start voting for a certain candidate, they know what they are voting for.
In relation to this, Heydarian laments the lack of ‘real’ political parties in the Philippines, explaining that most parties in the country lack real political machinery. This results in the reliance of some richer candidates on their own finances and others who must instead rely on big businesses for funding.
“Does reliance on certain big funders portend a situation whereby their policies will be favorable to specific interests?” Heydarian questions. He concludes, “This is the problem we have when people run without their own political parties. They run based on the funding and support of specific big players, and I think that this is something that concerns us.”
Sentiments of the population
Heydarian posits, “Surveys show that Filipinos are at their most optimistic stage in decades. I think it’s because the economy overall is doing much better, and there’s a semblance of political stability.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Contreras shares, “[Candidates] should also be educators of the electorate. The thing is, they gave what the electorate wants, not what the electorate needs. People want stories, people want mura, people want angas, and that’s what they give.”
Regarding the general sentiment of the people, Dr. Contreras says, “I don’t have basis to say. I can only say my sentiment and the sentiment of people I know. People are depressed, people are pissed off.” He adds, “Maybe that’s why some people tend to gravitate to Duterte because they’re just so frustrated about things.”
A survey conducted from January 24 to 26 this year by Pulse Asia gauged the main concerns that the voting population expect the future president to address.
The report states that in terms of first-mentioned concerns, the leading ones include illegal drugs (16 percent), workers’ pay (13 percent), inflation (12 percent), and poverty (11 percent).
As for second-mentioned preferences, the top ones are workers’ pay (14 percent), inflation (11 percent), and corruption (10 percent).
Lastly, as far as third-mentioned responses are concerned, among the top responses are workers’ pay (11 percent), job creation (11 percent), illegal drugs (10 percent), corruption in government (10 percent), poverty (9 percent), and inflation (8 percent).