AS the 90-day campaign period for senatorial and party-list candidates started on Tuesday, February 12, Malacañang informed the public that it is lawful for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to engage in partisan activities.
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that while the Article XXII Section 261 (i) known as the Prohibited Acts of the Omnibus Election Code prohibits public officers and employees from endorsing, the provision simply excludes the president.
“The president even asked – called upon the members of the cabinet to strictly follow the rules on the prohibition on government employees, officials not to campaign for or against any political candidate, exempting himself, because the provision says he is exempted from it,” Panelo said as reported by The Philippine Star.
The Code, otherwise known as the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Resolution No. 9115, stated that “the following shall be guilty of an election offense.” Under the “intervention of public officers and employees,” the provision exempts those “holding political offices” from getting an election sanction.
“Any officer or employee in the civil service, except those holding political offices; any officer, employee, or member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), or any police force, special forces, home defense forces, barangay self-defense units and all other para-military units that now exist or which may hereafter be organized who, directly or indirectly, intervenes in any election campaign or engages in any partisan political activity, except to vote or to preserve public order, if he is a peace officer,” the provision stated.
Such law is confirmed by COMELEC Spokesperson James Jimenez during his interview with Cignal TV’s One News segment, “The Chiefs”. He admitted that while this rule clearly exempts politicians in office, there are still gray areas in its implementation.
Panelo clarified that despite Duterte’s liberty to campaign for those he deemed worthy of the public seat, “it will be just verbal endorsement” from the president. He promised that the executive office will not use taxpayers’ money in any of the campaigns.
There are three senatorial candidates that are closely linked with Duterte and are part of his “inner circle.” Among those in the inner circle are his long-time aide Special Assistant to the President (SAP) Christopher “Bong” Go, former Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, and former political adviser Francis Tolentino.
Panelo also denied that the upcoming May elections would serve as a referendum on the Duterte presidency. The spokesperson noted that he does not “think the president believes in his magical so-called power to endorse. What he’s giving the people is ‘these are the people that I personally feel are capable of being in the Senate.”
The presidential legal counsel emphasized that a win from the opposition side would not denote a repudiation of the Duterte presidency. Instead, he said that it simply signifies a mandate from the people to cooperate with the administration.
“Now, as far as I am concerned and I think the President will agree with me that the—even the winning of an opposition candidate doesn’t mean a repudiation of the administration,” Panelo said as reported by The Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“It only means that when opposition candidates win, it is an expression of the electorate telling them that we’re putting you there to cooperate with this administration because we believe in this presidency and not you to destabilize it,” he added.
Panelo also urged all local and national candidates for the midterm elections to practice clean, fair and honest practices before, during and after the campaign period by abiding with the rules and regulation of the election commission.
“Every government, every administration – always appeals to all the candidates to strictly observe the elections laws… We have to have clean, honest, fair, credible elections,” Panelo said.