The Struggle with Premature Campaigns

Emiko Antonette T. Escovilla

One who has experienced an election or two will probably be familiar with the term “premature campaigning,” and what it means. Generally, we understand it to be the situation where prior to the official start of the campaign period (90 days for national election; 45 days for local election), a candidate begins to campaign for himself. This practice has been declared unlawful by our laws as early as 1985, as provided in Section 80 of Batas Pambansang Bilang 881, which reads:

“Sec. 80. Election campaign or partisan political activity outside campaign period. – It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any party, or association of persons, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the campaign period: Provided, That political parties may hold political conventions or meetings to nominate their official candidates within thirty days before the commencement of the campaign period and forty-five days for Presidential and Vice-Presidential election.”

In 2006, the Supreme Court, in Lanot vs. Comelec (G.R. No. 164858, 16 November 2006, 507 SCRA 114, 147), laid down the requisites for a conviction under Section 80, as follows: (1) a person engages in an election campaign or partisan political activity; (2) the act is designed to promote the election or defeat of a particular candidate or candidates; (3) the act is done outside the campaign period.

The second element requires the existence of a candidate who, under Section 79(a) of BP 881, “has filed a certificate of candidacy” to an elective public office. The third element requires that the campaign period has not started when the election campaign or partisan political activity is committed.

Hypothetically then, as discussed in Lanot, if an individual files his certificate of candidacy on the last day, Section 80 may only apply to acts done on such last day, which is before the start of the campaign period and after at least one candidate has filed his certificate of candidacy. Strategically then, an individual could wait until the last day to file his certificate of candidacy, to reduce the possibility of any liability under Section 80 from attaching to his acts of campaigning.

However, with the passage of R.A. 8436, otherwise known as “An Act Authorizing the Commission on Elections to Use an Automated Election System,” the deadline for the filing of a certificate of candidacy was moved to one hundred twenty (120) days before the elections. Thus, would an individual who filed his candidacy 120 days before the elections violate Section 80 if he engaged in partisan campaigning before the campaign period?

To resolve this, the Supreme Court, in Lanot (in relation to the May 2004 elections), revisited the intention of the framers behind R.A. 8436, and ultimately concluded “that the deadline had been moved earlier only for the purposes of printing the official ballots, xxx” and that “xxx Congress, however, never intended the filing of a certificate of candidacy before 2 January 2004 to make the person filing to become immediately a ‘candidate’ for purposes other than the printing of ballots.” Section 80 therefore would not penalize those who filed their certificates of candidacy to meet the early deadline.

The above-ruling was adopted into law through R.A. 9369, which amended R.A. 8436. Under Section 13 of R.A. 9369, Section 11 of R.A. 8436 was amended as follows:

“Sec. 15. Official Ballot. – xxx For this purpose, the Commission shall set the deadline for the filing of certificate of candidacy/petition for registration/manifestation to participate in the election. Any person who files his certificate of candidacy within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy: Provided, That, unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the aforesaid campaign period: xxx”

In providing that a candidate is considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period, the Congress limited a candidate’s liability for an election offense only for acts done during the campaign period, and not prior — a detail which to date has prevented any conviction for premature campaigning under BP 881. In fact, based on such amendment, the Supreme Court reversed its earlier ruling in Peñera vs. COMELEC (G.R. 181613, 25 November 2009, 605 SCRA 574) and declared that Peñera could not be liable for premature campaigning for holding a motorcade the day before the campaign period, as she was not yet considered a candidate on that day. So, if you’re wondering why political campaigns appear to start too early, you needn’t look too far from the law that governs today’s elections.

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