Transcript of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago’s interview
On premature campaigning through commercial advertisements
I have taken the liberty of writing the chairman of the Comelec, former Supreme Court Justice Jose Melo, so that Comelec can study and then issue a resolution on the question of premature campaigning. We know that the law prohibits premature campaigning but several putative candidates for the 2010 elections, whether they are presidentiables, vice presidentiables, or senatoriables are already campaigning in the guise of commercial advertising, particularly on television or billboards. That is a violation of the law, and we lawmakers in the Senate should not be among the first to violate the law.
Their excuses are very thin and very prevaricating. It is a reality that in our Election Code there is no premature campaigning if the candidate has not yet filed a certificate of candidacy, and that would be allowed once election period begins. So to argue that before the certificate of candidacy has been filed any person can campaign is very specious. It is a way of contravening the law, or breaking the law but making a very sham excuse for it.
Secondly, the common excuse is the Election Code also allowed campaigning if it is intended to capture a seat as an official candidate of a national party. But basically, all these candidates are sure of being nominated by their party, so again that is a false and a mentally dishonest argument.
Apparently the Senate President has said that the Senate has to make a study on premature campaigning. But I humbly submit that primary jurisdiction to reconcile and interpret these appropriate provisions of the Election Code does not belong to Congress. It belongs to the Comelec, because under the Constitution, the Comelec has the primary function to enforce and administer our election laws. In other cases, the Supreme Court can pass resolutions interpreting certain provisions of the Omnibus Election Code. That is what they should do now so that we could stop all these pretense that they are not campaigning but they already are inflicting pain and boredom to the TV and radio audiences by campaigning so early.
Some argue that they are merely earning extra income. Give me a break! A senator’s total remuneration is more than handsome. So they cannot claim that they are indigent, or that they need to raise money. They were never commercial models before. Some of them just do not deserve to inflict their faces on the TV audience.
I hope that Comelec will duly consider my request, and thereafter issue a resolution so that it can define for us the crime of premature campaigning. It is penalized in the Election Code. All of these arguments made by these candidates concerned are in direct conflict with a specific provision of the Election Code, which it is illegal to campaign directly or indirectly to solicit votes or support for his or her candidacy. There is a specific provision that prohibits a premature campaign even it is done indirectly, which is being done today.
So I hope with the Comelec resolution, all candidates will draw the line. Comelec just has to read the riot act to these recalcitrant candidates. I am not referring to any particular candidate. I am just discharging as a lawyer what I feel is a very humble contribution to the rule of law in our country.
Does it only cover commercial products or does it include personal advocacies?
Yes of course. There’s a time for that—that’s the campaign season. It would fall under the provision that makes it unlawful to conduct any election activity or partisan political activity.
In fact, I think out of the sense of delicadeza, politicians who are in power should appear as commercial models at any time. You can never tell whether in the future a member of Congress might be faced with a bill or some decision that might represent a conflict of interest between the commercial establishment for which he made an ad and his duties as legislator. So even without premature campaigning as an issue, I don’t think that any incumbent senator or congressman should appear endorsing any commercial product.
Not everything that is legal is moral. They should just remove those without waiting for the Comelec to issue a formal order. That order from the Comelec would humiliate them. If I were one of those candidates I would just voluntarily pull out those advertisements. If you read between the lines of the Anti-graft Law, that would be a case that a member of Congress should observe self inhibition in endorsing any commercial product because of any potential of conflict of interest.
28 May 2008
Chair Jose A.R. Melo
Commission on Elections
Dear Chair Melo:
This is to respectfully request a Comelec Resolution on the implementation of BP Blg. 881, the Omnibus Election Code of 1985, particularly Sec. 80, which makes it unlawful for any person to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity, except during the campaign period.
This prohibition against premature campaigning is blatantly circumvented at present, under any or all of the following disreputable claims:
Since under Sec. 79 (a), “candidate” refers only to a person who has filed a certificate of candidacy, allegedly the prohibition does not apply to a person who has not yet filed the certificate.
Since Sec. 79 (b) allows campaign acts, if performed for enhancing the chances of aspirants for nomination of a political party, allegedly the prohibition does not apply.
Since Sec. 79 last paragraph allows public expression on probable issues or on attributes of probable candidates for nomination of a political party, allegedly the prohibition does not apply.
Such claims are specious and made in bad faith, because Sec. 79 (5) specifically defines an “election campaign” or “partisan political activity” as: “Directly or indirectly soliciting votes, pledges, or support for or against a candidate.”
I respectfully submit that it is Comelec, not Congress, which has primary jurisdiction to interpret the Election Code, under the Constitution, Article 9 (C) and Sec. 2 (1) vesting the Comelec with the power to: “Enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election . . . .”
I respectfully file this request, in response to mounting media and public clamor to stop the ongoing premature campaign of certain candidates. It is unacceptable for lawmakers themselves to violate the law, by invoking deceptive technicalities to circumvent that law. I do not direct this request against any particular candidate. But as a lawyer, I merely want to make a humble contribution to the rule of law.
(Sgd.)MIRIAM DEFENSOR SANTIAGO
Labels: Commission on Elections, election law, graft and corruption, Miriam