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'Do I Look Like a Mockery to You?': Candidate Substitution, Explained

Time to change the law that allows it?
by Erwin Colcol
Oct 20, 2021
Photo/s: Jerome Ascano

"Do I look like a mockery to you?" Sen. Ronald "Bato" dela Rosa shot back at journalists after he filed his candidacy for president at the last minute, a move that caught even himself by surprise.

The former national police chief and implementer of President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war said he's serious about running, but in case Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio changes her mind about running to succeed her father, Dela Rosa said he would give way.

The nation will have to wait until the deadline for candidate substitution on Nov. 15 to see if Dela Rosa will yield to his former boss' political heiress. Senators and congressmen have restarted debates on the rules surrounding candidate substitution to guard against abuse.

Candidate substitution becomes a “mockery” if it is used to advance politicians' agenda, University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela Atienza told reportr.

“Parties can use the law to strategize and field first unknown candidates who really have no intention of running for the office as placeholder,” Atienza told reportr.

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“It shows lack of respect for the electoral process as a democratic process but instead, they use it as a tool hoping to further their interests,” she added.

Why substitute candidates?

Article IX, Sec. 77 of the Omnibus Election Code allows the substitution of a candidate if after the last day of the candidacy filing, the official candidate of a political party dies, withdraws, or is disqualified, as long as the substitute candidate comes from the same party.

For the 2022 elections, the last day of candidate substitution is on Nov. 15, which some people say is the actual deadline of the filing of candidacies.

While the intention of the law is good, Atienza said it gained a negative reputation after PDP-Laban used the substitution clause to field then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte for president in the 2016 elections, replacing Martin Diño, an anti-crime advocate.

“A party uses this as a strategy, waiting first for the other parties' candidates to file and allowing a weak or unknown candidate to file first and then substitute the actual candidate hoping that it will catch the other parties by surprise and get more attention from the media and the public,” Atienza said.

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On the flip side, candidate substitution can also be a sign of a party’s weakness, as they are unable to field their final candidates before the last day of candidacy filing, according to Atienza.

Lakas-CMD, the party of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, fielded a certain Anna Velasco and Lyle Uy for president and vice president, respectively, before the Oct. 8 candidacy filing deadline.

While they may be "forced to field" these candidates if there are no other people available, Lakas-CMD could still negotiate with stronger bets that could fill these positions on or before Nov. 15, according to its secretary general Deputy Speaker Prospero Pichay.

It worked before, it can also backfire

Waiting in the wings can be an advantage for substitute candidates since their opponents will have a shorter time to strategize, Atienza said.

But since substitution has played out as a strategy in 2016, it may no longer achieve the element of surprise. Voters who are expecting substitutions may not be as welcoming to the actual candidates, Atienza said.

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“Given that a lot of people are now accusing pro-administration parties of preparing for substitution, it can lead to the substitute candidate actually losing votes in the elections,” she said.

In other words, due to the bad reputation of the substitution process now among some voters, the strategy can backfire,” she added.

What's next?

To prevent abuse, Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez filed a measure seeking to prohibit changing of candidates unless the original bet dies or is disqualified in observance to the true intention of the law.

Rodriguez also proposed to require incumbent officials to resign or be deemed automatically resigned upon filing of candidacy, saying a candidate would not agree to be a placeholder for an indecisive aspirant if he or she were to step down from office.

Atienza agreed with Rodriguez that there should be stricter conditions in allowing candidates to be substituted.

“It should only be allowed in cases when the original candidate is incapacitated or suddenly dies. There should be stricter penalties for substitution as mere strategy,” she said.

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In the end, it’s still up to the lawmakers to ensure that the provision on candidate substitution operates the way it should be.

“I deplore the thinking that results in this 'strategy,' but I've also seen the intrinsic worth of the system of substitution,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said on Twitter.

“What needs to happen is that Congress should introduce restrictions of some sort on the exercise of the statutory privilege of substitution,” he added.


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