In the first eight days of October, the country was at a standstill.
All eyes were on the convoys that arrived at the venue for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) for the 2022 national elections. Concluding with 97 presidential bets, 29 vice-presidential alternatives, 176 senatorial hopefuls, and 270 partylists that have registered, the COC-filing period saw both prominent politicians and everyday Filipinos join the race for the highest seats in the national government.
While the final list of candidates is yet to be released, our eyes are now fixed on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which will decide whose names will eventually make it to the ballots in May.
In what seems to be a competition of experience in public service and of political affiliations, a number of would-be novices in governance also declared their intentions to run for office.
We have seen this play out even in prior elections; we have had countless experiences with nuisance candidates. Though labeled as such, one might need to ponder upon the reason for them to suddenly seek high-stakes positions. Dr. Minguita Padilla, an ophthalmologist, and Carl Balita, an education entrepreneur, are among those who reportedly ran to help address the failed pandemic response. This is nothing but unexpected—with Filipinos discontented with the current administration or intolerant of their incapability to ensure competence and uphold accountability among their ranks.
It is as if their COCs are physical manifestations of their acknowledgment of how poor they think of a Rodrigo Duterte-led government. They want to take charge and enact the change that was promised to us six years ago.
Meanwhile, detained or convicted candidates are shamelessly seeking reelection despite their past or current scandals. Among these are former senator Jinggoy Estrada, who currently faces a P183-million plunder case for the pork barrel scam, and former Philippine National Police mascot Sen. Bato dela Rosa, who is running for president while being under investigation by the International Criminal Court for perpetuating the drug war. Even late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ son and historical revisionist Bongbong Marcos is keen on prancing his way back to Malacañang.
And the only thing that stands between them and the likes of Sen. Bong Go, Sen. Bong Revilla, Sen. Lito Lapid, Sen. Tito Sotto, and Sen. Manny Pacquiao from their continued rise to power is the Comelec.
As the governing body that would allow them to be considered for the positions they are running for in the first place, the question of whether the Commission is enough to safeguard the integrity of our government is still up in the air.
While we seem hung up on the principles of voter responsibility, truth-seeking, and political engagement, what we seem to neglect are the underlying problems within our electoral process. It is great that the youth continue to be actively involved in nation-building, but we must realize how our focus on convincing each other to switch to our side of the political spectrum has deviated our attention from the bigger picture.
It is repetitive to clamor for much stricter qualifiers to run for Senate, the vice presidency, and especially the presidency but there is merit to such a demand. This does not mean that being a natural-born Filipino citizen who is capable of reading and writing, a registered voter, a Philippine resident in at least the past two years, and will be at least 35 years old come election season should be disregarded. These should serve as baseline qualifications but not as sole determinants of those who can run for office.
We cannot be tolerant of electing legislators and higher-ranking officials who are reliant on their interns to know how to understand the law.
We cannot be the sole bearers of this burden while the Comelec turns a blind eye to a persistent issue. Without action from the Commission, we can expect to see more politicians in Congress and in the Office of the President do their best to justify their ineptitude while having every resource to address this.
The national government is not a playground. We need competent leaders who will help steer the nation with better governance, inclusive legislation, and higher regard for human dignity. These should be non-negotiables—along with standing against corruption.
Along with calling for each Filipino to be more critical of our politicians and future electeds and for each candidate to assess their capability to serve the best interests of the nation, we are also pleading for the Comelec to uphold strong moral principles in assessing which leaders we will be choosing in the next national elections.
The Commission needs to ensure that the final list of candidates contains names of those who are capable of leading and are not just famous or wealthy enough to stamp their faces all over the country.
If they are keen on promoting clean elections, they should also be proactive in ensuring that preposterous attempts to publish fake credentials and projects are shut down as it is in their line of work.
Seven months from now, Filipinos will have to make very important decisions. There is still so much to tackle in so little time but let us hope we at least get better options on our ballots.