THE Omnibus Election Code turns 36 years old next month. Passed in December 1985, it is one of the landmark laws crafted by the Batasan. Its passage turned out to be the Batasan’s last gasp: Three months after it enacted BP 811, the Marcos-ordained legislature was dissolved by the Freedom Constitution.
It is a good law. It made possible the credible election of five presidents of the Republic, hundreds of congressmen and senators, and thousands of local officials. It has undergone some changes, but they were mostly patchwork. Sen. Leila de Lima once proposed that our election laws be re-codified, but she could only do so much from her prison cell and none of her colleagues took up the challenge.
It is high time that the code be revisited because some of the conditions that existed during and even before its passage have significantly changed. The Marcos dictatorship has been and continues to be criticized for having corrupted institutions that until then had been held sacred. But the political system then, eschewed as it was, did not feature utter disregard of the politician’s implied promise when he files his certificate of candidacy that he will be in the thick of battle, come hell or high water.
The covenant that the politician impliedly signed when he filed his certificate of candidacy then was in a way like the marital vow: for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer or poorer until death does him and his candidacy part. Substitutions were few and far between and if there were withdrawals, they were based on good reason, not part of a political scheme.
Section 77 of the Code thus deserves particular attention; in fact, it is what makes a review of the law imperative. The provision is, I am sure, well-intentioned. But as they say, the road to perdition is paved with good, even noble, intentions.
It says, in part: “If after the filing of certificates of candidacy, an official candidate of a registered political party dies, withdraws or is disqualified for any cause... a person from his party “may file a certificate of candidacy to replace the candidate who died, withdrew or was disqualified.”
The framers of the law must have been looking at bona fide withdrawals when it wrote Section 77 and therefore failed to qualify that the withdrawal be for cause. Alas, this misplaced trust and the ensuing failure to define the withdrawal in contemplation of law has opened a Pandora’s box of bad actors and illegitimate intentions. While the law is quick to condemn candidates who do not have the wherewithal to mount a credible campaign, it is absolutely powerless to deal with placeholders. Who between them really mocks the electoral system?
This is way beyond just gamesmanship. It is an insult to the people. It has to stop.
November 18, 2021
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