Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has filed a measure which seeks to plug the loophole in the country’s election law by prohibiting any forms of premature campaigning for any prospective candidate a year before the national and local elections.
De Lima, a known election lawyer, filed Senate Bill No (SBN). 1893 which seeks to redefine activities that are considered premature campaigning intended to advance and enhance the chances of prospective candidates to get himself elected in public office.
“Prospective candidates may be held liable for premature campaigning within one year before the start of the campaign period,” she said in her proposed measure.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has admitted it cannot stop individuals from making himself visible to the public eye in order to improve their chances for public elective office due to the absence of a definitive law against premature campaigning.
Under the present Omnibus Election Code, an aspirant for national or local elective office does not commit “premature campaigning” if he has not officially filed his certificate of candidacy, and therefore, technically cannot be considered as a candidate.
Also, under Republic Act No. 9369, a person who aspires to run for elective office can only be considered a candidate at the start of the election campaign period.
Although election period is still several months away, however, some individuals, including appointed officials, have been roaming around the country attending public gatherings. Some have displayed their posters in footbridges, electric posts and trees.
The former justice secretary pointed out that her proposed measure seeks to plug the loophole in the country’s election law by introducing a new person who can be held liable for election offenses on premature campaigning.
“The bill defines a prospective candidate as any person aspiring for or seeking an elective public office, whether or not he has explicitly declared his intention to run as a candidate immediately preceding elections,” she said.
De Lima explained that the public often see public personalities, especially the moneyed ones, who are taking advantage of the gaps and loopholes in the country’s election laws that allow them to engage in activities that smack of early campaigning.
According to her, these moneyed prospective candidates would of course disavow any intention to run and/or deny that what they are doing way before the election period – displaying posters, distributing money and goods, their faces appearing in billboards and infomercials, etc. – are for an electoral agenda.
“It’s time to put a stop to such deceptive schemes. Leveling the playing field and ridding our electoral system of malpractices and flawed rules are crucial for the citizenry’s meaningful exercise of its sovereign right to choose our country’s leaders,” she said. Under her proposed measure, De Lima also enumerated additional acts of “indirectly soliciting votes and/or pledges of support” as prohibited acts of premature campaigning. These are the following:
- Endorsing any product or service whether for a fee or not;
- Appearing in any infomercial;
- Appearing in any documentary or movie whether for a fee or not;
- Appearing or guesting in any television or radio program, except for legitimate news coverage;
- Accepting any employment in any media outfit as a news anchor, writer or regular talent;
- Buying any print, radio, television or internet space to advertise himself or any product or service.
“I know that like the anti-political dynasty bill, this type of a bill is among those hard to push among many lawmakers. But it’s worth doing,” De Lima added.