Senate tackles measure vs premature campaigning

MANILA: The Senate committee on electoral reforms began tackling on Tueday a bill filed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago that would prohibit prospective candidates from premature campaigning or self-promotion one year before the start of the official campaign period.

The bill provides that a person would be considered a candidate upon the filing of a certificate of candidacy, and not at the start of the campaign period as provided for in the poll automation law.

The committee chair, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, said the pending bill would also require politicians to lay down their political plans early, way before the actual filing of certificates of candidacy.

This could also pose a dilemma for aspiring candidates who regularly appear on TV or radio shows, as pointed out by Sen. Vicente Sotto III, who hosts a noontime variety show on days when there are no Senate sessions.

Pimentel agreed it was not easy for the country’s politicians to set their political plans early.

He pointed out that even with less than a year to go before the 2016 elections, many politicians remain undecided about whether or not to run. There are also few declared candidates for the presidency, he noted.

Difficult to implement

“It seems it’s not in our political culture to plan that early. So we will study carefully the concept of premature campaigning because it might be breached or violated countless times,” he told reporters in an ambush interview

He also said that for practical purposes, the proposed premature campaigning law would pose problems.

“It would be difficult to implement because you will be called to answer for acts you committed before you filed your [certificate of candidacy] and that would be eight months of decision making and actions, that you should be conscious for eight months that you would file your COC. So that means you will be watching your actions for 8 months,” he said.

Sotto said that if he applies the current version of the bill to his situation, he would be disqualified because he has been appearing on TV for the last 36 years.

“The bottom line is the bill is preventing people from television and the movies from entering politics,” he said during the hearing.

Proposed compromise

Pimentel proposed a compromise that would be tackled in the committee. In his proposal, anybody who files a certificate of candidacy would be immediately considered a candidate, and would be prohibited from engaging in self-promotion and or election campaign from then until the start of the official campaign period.

At present, there is essentially no offense of premature campaigning, after the Supreme Court ruled in effect that this had been repealed by the poll automation law.

The court had said that a candidate is not liable for any election offense like premature campaigning before the start of the campaign period.

Pimentel also said any premature campaigning bill was unlikely to become a law in time to affect the 2016 elections. But he said his committee would continue to tackle the matter for future elections.

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