By Genalyn Kabiling
President Duterte’s declaration of support for senatorial aspirant Freddie Aguilar was not a form of premature campaigning, Malacañang insisted on Tuesday.
Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo argued that Aguilar could not yet be considered a candidate since the campaign period for the 2019 polls has not yet even started.
Panelo added that the President’s pronouncement was a “mere request” to the people to support Aguilar as an outstanding person.
“The President has made a statement backing Freddie Aguilar on his bid by acknowledging the latter’s brilliance and nationalism. PRRD said that he believes in the man’s capability in helping the country. We stand by this pronouncement,” Panelo said.
“A question was, however, asked with regard to the President’s statement being a form of premature campaigning. To this, we responded in the negative, explaining that the President was not referring to elections. This is because the period therefor will only start on January 13, 2019,” he said.
Panelo also invoked a 2009 Supreme Court ruling on the disqualification case of then Sta. Monica, Surigao del Norte mayor Rosalinda Penera that effectively changed the rule on early campaigning of candidates.
He said the Supreme Court ruled that “a person who files a certificate of candidacy may only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period.”
“Accordingly, for all intents and purposes, Mr. Aguilar cannot be considered as a candidate yet under election laws since the campaign period for the upcoming elections for senators will be from February 12, 2019 to May 11, 2019 only,” he said.
“This is the reason why we explained the President’s pronouncement as a mere request addressed to the people to support Mr. Aguilar as an outstanding man, the latter not being considered as a candidate yet under our laws,” he said.
Also, Panelo pointed out that the Supreme Court has removed premature campaign as an election offense.
“Even if what the President said is an endorsement in relation to Mr. Aguilar’s Senate bid, which it is, in the appropriate time, the same cannot be a violation of election laws in view of the Supreme Court case of Penera v. COMELEC which effectively declares that premature campaigning is no longer considered as an offense because a person cannot be treated as a candidate until the campaign period,” he said.
Last Monday, the President endorsed the senatorial bid of Aguilar, saying he was a nationalist and a brilliant man. Duterte said he hopes the public would consider Aguilar when they vote for 12 senators in the upcoming polls.
Panelo, during a Palace press briefing, said the President was merely expressing his opinion about the qualification of Aguilar.
“Contrary to news reports, the Palace did not retract the President’s expression of support for Mr. Freddie Aguilar,” he said.
“As earlier said, PDP-Laban has not come up with a full slate of candidates for the Senate yet. Hence, the President may still manifest his support in favor of aspiring senators outside his political party whom he deems fit and qualified,” he said.