End the Charade of Candidate Substitution

In a democratic society, the integrity of the electoral process is paramount. Yet, in the Philippines, a glaring loophole has allowed political manipulation to thrive, compromising the transparency and sincerity of candidates stepping into the political arena.

The recent proposal by Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairperson George Erwin Garcia to ban the substitution of candidates after the filing of their Certificates of Candidacy (COC) represents a crucial step toward restoring faith in Philippine elections.

For too long, the substitution rule within the Omnibus Election Code has been exploited by political parties to introduce last-minute candidates under the guise of replacements for those who withdraw post-COC filing. This practice not only undermines the purpose of a candidature declaration period but also misleads voters about the real contenders, thus manipulating electoral outcomes.

Under the existing provisions, if a candidate withdraws, dies, or is disqualified after officially filing for candidacy, their political party can substitute another candidate, provided the substitute shares the same surname. This bizarre criterion allows political dynasties to maintain their grip on power by fielding placeholders — often relatives — until a more favorable or strategic moment when a more prominent family member can take their place.

The implications of such strategic substitutions are far-reaching. They allow political parties to initially field weak or unknown candidates to circumvent the scrutiny that accompanies the election season. As the election draws closer, these placeholder candidates withdraw, replaced by more prominent figures who bypass the rigorous vetting process and public scrutiny that their competitors endure.

Chairperson Garcia’s proposal to end this practice is a commendable move aimed at ensuring candidates who file are the ones who intend to run. This change will force political parties to present their genuine candidates from the outset, allowing voters to make informed decisions based on a complete and unchanging roster of contenders. It also puts a stop to the deceptive practice of presenting one candidate to the public during the filing period, only to switch to another as the election nears — a practice that reeks of deceit and undermines voter trust.

Moreover, eliminating the substitution loophole would enhance campaign fairness. Candidates who enter the race late miss out on months of campaigning and public appearances that their competitors have had. It ensures all candidates are on an equal footing regarding public exposure and policy scrutiny.

While some might argue that the substitution rule provides flexibility for parties facing unforeseen circumstances such as the death or disqualification of a candidate, the frequent abuse of this provision for strategic advantages overshadows its utility. The electoral process must prioritize transparency and fairness over the convenience of political entities.

As COMELEC moves forward with this proposal, it is crucial for all stakeholders, including lawmakers, political parties, and the electorate, to support measures that enhance electoral integrity. Ending the substitution charade will not solve all the problems of Philippine elections, but it is a significant step in the right direction — toward an electoral process that truly respects and reflects the will of the people.

The upcoming 2025 midterm elections provide an excellent opportunity for this rule to be tested. With COMELEC’s push for increased voter registration and education, along with a potential end to manipulative candidate substitutions, the Philippines could see one of its most transparent and fair elections in recent history.

Let this be a turning point for electoral integrity in the nation.


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