The caravans and rallies being held in support of political aspirants are legal, an official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.
Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez explained that premature campaigning is no longer a punishable offense under existing laws.
“Unfortunately, premature campaigning is no longer a punishable offense so all of these activities, the caravans, all the rallies that are being held left and right, all of these are actually legal,” he said in a television interview on Oct. 25.
“We understand that it is premature campaigning but there’s nothing we can really do about it because the law itself doesn’t penalize this kind of behavior,” added Jimenez.
“Republic Act 9369 says that candidates are only considered official candidates when the campaign period starts which means that every law, every regulation that applies to candidates will find application only at the start of the campaign period and this is such a massive change and has created a loophole that allows premature campaigning to happen,” he said.
Earlier this month, the poll official urged those who filed their Certificates of Candidacy (COCs) for the May 2022 polls not to engage in early campaigning.
Jimenez, however, admitted that filers can start campaigning since there is no more legal prohibition against premature campaigning.
The Poll Automation Law states that “any person who files his certificate of candidacy shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period” and that “unlawful acts applicable to a candidate shall be in effect only upon that start of the campaign period.”
This was affirmed by the 2009 Supreme Court case of Penera vs. Comelec, which paved the way for the removal of premature campaigning as an election offense.
The Comelec has set the campaign period for the May 2022 polls from Feb. 8 to May 7, 2022.
Meanwhile, the Comelec is not in favor of a bill seeking to ban substitution for an aspirant, who withdraws his certificate of candidacy (COC).
Jimenez said they see substitution as a necessary remedy under the law.
“We see substitution as a necessary remedy under the law. What would perhaps be a better idea is if Congress were to introduce some controls, some sort of regulation because right now the law is pretty wide open, it simply says that you can substitute if you withdraw and you belong to a political party,” he said.
“Perhaps additional restrictions could be put in place again short of actually removing that right because that right is we believe is essential to the elections,” added Jimenez.
The poll official, also said that aspirants are allowed to switch parties.
“Right now, people can actually switch political parties in order to make substitution happen. That weakness of the political party system is in fact a loophole,” Jimenez said.
He added that a person, who is running independent, can actually join a political party and then substitute for someone before the end of the substitution period.
Jimenez said there is also no deadline for switching parties.
“In fact you could switch parties after Nov. 15. What Nov. 15 is a deadline for is the filing of substitution so if you’re going to switch parties in order to substitute for another candidate, then yes you’re practical deadline is Nov. 15. You have to switch by then in order to be eligible to substitute,” he said.