Last week the Commission on Elections issued a statement that they are considering banning/restricting face-to-face campaigning for the May 9, 2022, elections. Many people reacted to this statement, with many confused as to how that’s even feasible.
To make things clear, campaign restrictions on candidates can be imposed only at the start of the campaign period. For national candidates for the positions of president (1), vice-president (1), senators (12), and party-list congressmen, the campaign period is 90 days before election day. For local candidates, the campaign period is 45 days before election day. So, from the time of filing, which in October, 2021, until the start of the campaign period, there are generally no restrictions on candidates with regards to campaigning, because the campaign period has not yet commenced.
As it is, even during the campaign period, it’s impossible to prevent face-to-face campaigning. Especially for local candidates. Can you imagine a candidate running for councilor in the municipality of Diplahan, located in the Province of Zamboanga Sibugay who now will be prohibited from campaigning in his municipality, except through social media and the use of campaign materials like posters, streamers, and leaflets? So, every move he makes, he will incur expense. It’s a policy which will tend to favor the moneyed candidates. What’s even worse is that he and his supporters could possibly no longer just go around the municipality to educate the voters about his plans and programs. When he sees a friend, a voter, or supporter in the bank, will he have to keep quiet, for fear that his conversation will now be considered a “face-to-face” campaign activity?
Added to the above is the fact that there are places in the Philippines where there is no internet connectivity. One municipality which comes to mind is the Municipality of Mutya, Zamboanga del Norte, where I went to last week. It’s a beautiful place nestled high on the mountain range of the province. It’s about 20 minutes away from the city of Dapitan. There’s a fog that settles in some parts of the municipality, even at 4 p.m. If you go there though, it’s almost impossible to make a call or send an SMS (on both networks). Access to the web in some areas of the municipality is almost non-existent. And this is just one of countless number of municipalities in the Philippines where access to the web is problematic. Not every place in the Philippines has the same telco coverage as urban centers like Metro Manila, Cebu City, and Davao City. And even in cities and municipalities in the Philippines which supposedly have internet connectivity, there are some barangays which don’t. What do we do with places with no internet access? How will the voters get to know the candidates, especially the new candidates without costing an arm and a leg for candidates? What do we also do with voters who do not know how to use smartphones? How do we campaign to voters who do not have smartphones, do not own a TV, or read the newspaper?
Let me reiterate that guidelines on limiting the number of attendees in a political activity during the campaign period is a good step in the right direction. Not every Filipino will be vaccinated by May 9, 2022. So, we have to ensure that health protocols are in place and enforced. The best thing to do is for Comelec to talk with the IATF, the Department of Health, and medical societies on what best guidelines should be issued, to ensure the health of the people. Examples of these “CAMPAIGN PROTOCOLS” include limiting the number of attendees at rallies to a certain percentage of the capacity of the venue where the election activity will be held, requiring disinfection of venues before and after a rally, etc.
What’s crucial is that guidelines and regulations must be well planned to ensure it can be enforced. Not only during the campaign period, but more so on election day.
Stay Safe. Stay healthy. Register as a voter.