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COMELEC, political parties gear up for GE

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A candidate from the last General Election delivers his Miting de Avance address. This year’s GE campaign period is set to take place sometime in the first weeks of March.

Halfway into the third term of this academic year, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) as well as the two political parties have busied themselves with preparations for the upcoming University Student Government (USG) General Elections (GE).

Monitoring electioneering

COMELEC Chairperson Kevin Caballas tells that there were minimal revisions in the election code, “Mostly panlilinaw lang, lalo na yung mga definitions ng ilang part ng election code [The revisions were mostly for clarification purposes, specifically for the definitions of some parts of the election code].” This revision, he says, also corrects the redundancies in the provisions of the Memoranda of Agreement, among others.

Given the revisions, Caballas says that COMELEC will continue to be vigilant in monitoring actions of the candidates and political parties this coming GE season to ensure that they conform to rules and schedules, especially in terms of electioneering.

The election code defines electioneering as the “act of soliciting votes, pledges or support for or against a candidate or political party not within the specified campaign period.” Electioneering is also monitored in online platforms, which include posts and re-posts on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

This definition, Caballes says, is “very vague,” citing difficulty in verifying electioneering with acts such as shouting a candidate’s name or posting online photos bearing only a political party’s color. “If political parties and other supporters use that, we won’t really know if campaigning really is the intention of because it doesn’t explicitly say that it’s encouraging people to vote for that person or to support that party.”

“Although we try to cover as much ground as possible, sometimes we really can’t prove is especially since the grounds for it are very vague,” he adds. “I was talking with the other LAs and hopefully, after the student charter or code of conduct gets revised, there will be a clearer definition of electioneering.

Preparing their top candidates

The two political parties, Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) and Alyansang Tapat sa Lasalista (Tapat), have already lined up their top candidates in preparation for the upcoming GE.

Santugon President Rachel Lucero says that “Santugon will continue to produce leaders that are competent, consultative, and adaptive to the ever-evolving needs of students” and that the party will “continue to find ways to provide relevant and concrete solutions through responsive and values-driven leadership.”

In the same light, Jerick Maala, President of Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista, says that the University should “just expect something different” from the party this year.

Both parties are also confident that problems faced in the 2013 GE have been addressed. Lucero recalls the difficulty faced in last year’s election due to the concurrent campaigns in the main campus and in the Science and Technology Center (STC). Logistics and mobility were a difficulty given the presence of STC. Resources were also spread thin,” she tells.

Maala, meanwhile, reinforces that beyond logistical problems, their party is “fighting for an idea this year” in comparison to their performance in the previous year.

Changing perceptions

The 2013 GE saw the first independent bid for USG Presidency by Migi Moreno, who then went on to win the seat. Moreno’s presence and subsequent win has, according to some, brought about a change in the way students have treated the elections with.

“I think when Migi Moreno came into the picture it changed the majority’s view on the image of political parties because he was a ‘middle ground’ between Tapat and Santugon,” tells Anton Arguelles (III, BSMSECO). “It was the first time I’ve seen a platform that seemed to be ‘unbiased and for the people’ as opposed to the two major parties that say they have radically different ideologies but it in essence it is really hard to identify the major difference.”

The presidents of both political parties have agreed to that this was indeed evident. Lucero says, “It inevitably changed perceptions among the voters, but we understand that such change in perception occurs with every campaign and with every shift in student culture and environment. We see this not as a problem to overcome, but rather as another shift in the dynamic perceptions of students that we look forward to responding to every election season.”

While Tapat President Jerick Maala agrees that Moreno’s campaign in the previous year may have changed students’ perception towards political parties, he insists that it did not reflect during his term as President. “In his Campaign yes, but in his term as president no. We even think that this can help both political parties in promoting the importance of having a political ideology,” he adds.

Current schedule and the possibility of a plebiscite

The release of the Certificates of Candidacy (COCs) is currently scheduled for February 24 while the deadline for filing will be on the 4th of March.

Caballas tells, however, that there is still the possibility of this planned schedule being revised if the proposed 2014 constitution will be passed by the Legislative Assembly (LA). The proposed constitution, dubbed Project REFOCUS, is currently in discussion in the LA floor, and if approved will require a plebiscite, a vote by the students in favor of or against the revisions in the constitution, in order for it to be ratified.

Santugon and Tapat have been aware and watchful of the current state of the amendments on the constitution, and are each drafting plans for the possibility of a plebiscite and constitution change. “Removing candidates is not an issue. Our political party fights for our platform and not for positions,” says Maala.

Lucero also tells, “We’re currently pushing for better communication with all the sectors involved… Given the circumstance, we have been very careful when talking to potential candidates to avoid that scenario.”

The plebiscite was originally planned for the end of the second term. Due to delays in the discussion of the LA, the target date was moved to early third term, with COMELEC initially scheduling the educational campaign for plebiscite to run during the week of February 5, but this will be further pushed back still due to delays in the LA.

Caballas expresses concern over the overlapping of schedules, which COMELEC is trying to avoid. He explains, “Kapag sinabay mo yung elections and plebiscite, what if pinasa yung constitution, tapos yung mga candidates tumakbo under status quo? That is, following the current structure. Kapag natuloy to, mababago yung slate nila. So paano yun diba? Kailangan pa ulit ng elections? Tapos magkakaroon ng bakante na officers. (If the elections and plebiscite were to push through at the same time, what will happen if the constitution is passed and the candidates were to run under status quo? That is, following the current structure. If this happens, the political parties’ slates will change. So what will happen? Do we need to hold another election? Some elected officers might also be left without positions.)”

A final plan, Caballas says, can only be drafted once the LA finishes their discussions and the constitution is passed. The LA is set to have their final session on the proposed constitution on February 28, 2014.

“If it doesn’t get passed, then we stick to our schedule, and it’s up to next year’s set of officers to continue with the changes or not,” he concludes.

By Dana Uson

By CJ Cachola

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