SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

In this country, all is fair in love, war and politics.

The culture and regulatory environment allow it to be so. In filing certificates of candidacy, for example, there’s a five-week period during which aspirants can change their minds and withdraw from the race or substitute for others.

Rodrigo Duterte reinforced the trend in 2015, when he played coy before replacing Martin Diño at the eleventh hour as the standard bearer of the PDP-Laban. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) allowed the substitution, even if a challenger had argued that Diño’s candidacy was for Pasay City mayor.

Diño, who will be remembered as a trendsetter for political placeholders, was rewarded with the post of undersecretary of the interior and local government. His daughter Liza Diño-Seguerra was named chair of the Film Development Council of the Philippines.

There’s no constitutional or legal impediment to last-minute candidate substitutions for the two highest posts in the land. Even persons who merely warm the seat for substitute candidates – as Sen. Ronald dela Rosa has admitted – are not automatically deemed to be nuisance candidates, according to the Comelec.

This is being disputed by those who cite Section 69 of the Omnibus Election Code, which states that the Comelec can declare as a nuisance an aspirant whose acts “clearly demonstrate that the candidate has no bona fide intention to run for the office for which the certificate of candidacy has been filed…”

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Dela Rosa, standard bearer of a faction of the PDP-Laban, is widely believed to be the placeholder for Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio. The Lakas-CMD has also fielded its executive director, Anna Capella Velasco, as standard bearer / placeholder for Inday Sara.

President Duterte’s daughter, who has sniffed that she is not a “last two minutes” candidate, is seeking reelection in the family’s turf.

She is said to detest the PDP-Laban faction led by her father and Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi, so she’s unlikely to join the party in the last two minutes. But she can be the guest candidate of the party, whose candidate for vice president is someone she is also said to abhor, PDP-Laban member Sen. Bong Go.

The speculation is that candidates and parties want to use the period between Oct. 8, the deadline for the filing of candidacies, and Nov. 15, the deadline for substitutions within parties, to see the survey trend in voter preferences.

The two top pollsters normally conduct quarterly surveys. But they can be commissioned by private clients to take surveys during the period for candidate substitution.

While there is no legal impediment to such substitutions, they are raising criticisms of opportunism and making a mockery of the elections, which can warrant disqualification.

Politicians who resort to this, according to critics, are manipulative and can’t be trusted about their motives and their word.

OK… which politician doesn’t fit the description? Still, it’s the season of rebranding and distancing from traditional politics and parties. Being a placeholder is so trapo, and so associated with the circumstances that gave the country the Duterte presidency.

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The heat must be such that Bong Go has had to stress that he is no placeholder and he intends to see his VP bid through the end.

The jolly Bato dela Rosa, after his admission of being a last-two-seconds candidate (which he hasn’t retracted), is also professing seriousness in his presidential bid, and presenting his platform: what else but Tokhang 2, but minus the blood and gore (he claims).

If Inday Sara becomes a last-two-minutes candidate anyway, there’s no way Dela Rosa will run against her. What happens then to Duterte ally Bongbong Marcos? With his strong showing in surveys, it doesn’t look like Marcos is ready to slide down to the VP race.

The uncertainty over the candidacies is having a negative impact even on analysts’ economic growth projections for the Philippines.

Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez’s proposal to curb last-minute candidate substitutions is gaining public support. So is his proposal to require any local or national government official seeking elective office to resign.

What’s good for the public, however, is not always good for lawmakers. The proposals of Rodriguez have as much chance of being passed by Congress as the laws curbing political dynasties, fighting racketeering, lifting bank secrecy laws and regulating election campaign finance.

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In fact, the use of placeholders and substitutions can become as unrestrained as the explosion of party list groups.

The party list system, now so corrupted, looks headed for limitless expansion. Here we are, with the next four generations buried deep in debt to finance the still inadequate pandemic response. Yet we keep adding officials to taxpayers’ payroll. Even during the pandemic, unabashed gerrymandering continued, to create more congressional seats for members of dynastic clans in their turfs.

Meanwhile, groups are flooding the Comelec with petitions for party-list recognition, claiming to represent anything and everything – a shameful state of affairs that has been allowed by the Supreme Court.

The Omnibus Election Code states that a sectoral representative “shall be… a bona fide member of the sector he seeks to represent…” Look at many of our sectoral representatives, and be appalled.

So much public funds are being spent for the salaries, maintenance and operating expenses of party-list congressmen and their staff, with more to be added. Think of what all those precious funds could have done for the COVID pandemic response.

In the private sector, this unprecedented public health and economic crisis has forced drastic downsizing in nearly all industries. In government, the move is in the opposite direction.

Even in the executive branch, the bloating of the bureaucracy is boundless; for every problem, it seems, the answer is to create another executive agency or department. The Office of the President is being packed with retired former national police and military chiefs with no specific portfolio, who can’t be accommodated in the diplomatic service or the pandemic response team.

Once the tide gets rolling, it’s tough to roll it back. This is what the substitution and placeholder tack is also starting to look like.

If the tide can’t be stopped, one way for people to express displeasure is at the polls.

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