Before we elect our next president in May 2022, let us find some common ground on principles.
First, the president of our country must represent the best in us as a people. He or she must be principled, qualified both emotionally and intellectually, and willing to work hard to improve the lives, not just of his or her friends, allies and supporters, but of all Filipinos.
Second, anyone aspiring to be president must want the job and say so unabashedly at the outset, with no false humility or pretense. We have had our share of “reluctant” leaders hemming and hawing before finally “allowing” themselves to be recruited to run for the highest office in the land.
Things have not ended well for us when we picked them to be the highest elective official of the land.
Third, we need a true leader, not a charismatic puppet who can be manipulated by a cabal of “experts,” political hacks and special interests in some backroom. And this leader must adhere to meritocracy when choosing people for public office. We do not need a leader who will use the powers of the presidency to appoint campaign supporters and friends to repay some utang na loob or “debt of honor.”
Finally, the president we choose must have a respect for the law, adhering not only to the letter but the spirit of the law.
By most of these criteria, we should support the bid by five senators to pass a bill that would bar the option to substitute an aspirant who voluntarily withdraws from an electoral race.
Senate Bill No. 2439, which has a counterpart bill in the House, was filed by Senators Nancy Binay, Sherwin Gatchalian, Grace Poe, Joel Villanueva, and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and seeks to amend the Omnibus Election Code to remove “withdrawal” as one of the allowable reasons for a candidate’s substitution.
“This unfortunate practice of just fielding anyone to be a party’s candidate for the sake of complying with the Comelec (Commission on Election) deadline is observed by some as a mockery of the process of filing certificates of candidacies,” they said in the bill’s explanatory note.
“This bill seeks to modify the grounds for substitution by removing the option of substitution in a case where an aspirant or official candidate of a political party voluntarily withdraws his candidacy, and adding incapacity as a ground for substitution of candidates,” they added.
Even before the ink had dried on their signatures, the senators could see the absurdity of political parties filing unknown, unremarkable “placeholder” candidates whose only function is not to run for office and win, but to be substituted before Nov. 15 by a more viable candidate that must be convinced to run.
A Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner has argued that the substitution cannot be removed is ludicrous, because Congress can do this simply by passing a law or amending the Omnibus Election Code. That is what legislators do.
Such an amendment would still allow substitutions for candidates who die or are disabled before the election; what it would remove would only be the cynical gaming of the system that some political hacks favor. These would-be candidates insist this is not a mockery of the system while mocking us to our face. One Cabinet member who did not file a certificate of candidacy for senator now says he may run after all, as a substitute candidate.
“I found out just recently that the PRP (People’s Reform Party) has apparently asked someone to file by way of substitution, giving me the opportunity to run on or before Nov. 15,” he said. Remarkably, he did not know the name of this candidate that he wants to replace—and insists that this absurd arrangement is not a mockery of the system because “it’s allowed by law.” Then he adds: “Of course the first to complain are [the] senators, then they should repeal the law.”
There is no need to repeal the Omnibus Election Code—only amend it by removing the much-abused provision on candidate substitution.