Why ‘pre-campaigning’ is necessary
I hope you managed to read “Today began yesterday,” which the editor of the special section on elections asked me to write. In it, I outlined some of the trends we face in the coming national polls. For our purposes here, a brief review of what’s relevant to this piece: Our parties are like “manananggal,” in that, divorced from the barangay, they have no legs (the grassroots); as Randy David has pointed out, in the absence of the old parties which had not just leaders, but actual members, who thus held intramurals which are called either primaries or party conventions, candidacies today are handled in a manner similar to the way the funding and logistics for stage productions are put together by impresarios. There is, of course, a third way: the convenor model, in which a respected group of leaders comes together to represent different groups, to come up with a method for picking a common candidate.
Taking off from that, I’d like to explore a topic that crops up every electoral cycle which is the small, ineffectual, but noisy crusade against being “epal” in which appeals are made to respect the “spirit” of the Omnibus Election Code. The problem with the electoral rules is that the period for strictly regulating what candidates can, and cannot do, is limited: essentially from Feb. 8 to May 7. Before that, basically anything goes, and it bothers some people. I believe if we only understood what actually goes on before then, we’d understand why the law limits campaigning to the actual campaign period; conversely, why it is not just impossible, but I’d argue, actually undemocratic and harmful, to try to limit behavior before then. Not only because the law isn’t in the business of mind-reading (how can you be required to act as a candidate if you haven’t declared your candidacy?), but because things have to be allowed to play out.
So what’s happening? Why is PDP-Laban engaged in cannibalism, preparing to roast Sen. Manny Pacquiao alive, why is NPC taking in his good friend Chavit Singson and the Senate president, one of its senior leaders, giving Pacquiao advice? Why is there an electronic billboard suddenly singing praises to Salvador Panelo? And so on? It’s because from now to Oct. 1-8, when the filing of candidacies takes place, there are three milestones all political players are keeping an eye on.
The first already passed, traditionally speaking, because June is the season for “initial benchmarking surveys,” when names are weighed according to their political viability. Then, in July comes the last State of the Nation Address of the incumbent president; the time for setting the stage for the anointing of a president’s preferred successor. All through this period until October is what’s called “consciousness-raising”—activities meant to raise awareness of, and excitement/interest/support for, potential candidates: to make it worth the while of all sorts to buy-in and chip-in, to a potential candidacy. It is during this period that the selection of standard-bearers takes place: when, in other words, the parties pick their candidates or, more accurately, candidates pick the party that will serve as their electoral vehicle.
In other nations we see this play out in primaries, mini electoral contests, with delegates to the party convention being the prize; in the old days, without primaries, it was when delegates were courted for the convention. But we no longer have conventions, the last viable one was in the Mitra-Ramos showdown; when Fidel V. Ramos bolted, it killed the convention as a means of resolving candidacy questions. No wonder one of Ramos’ operatives then, now former justice Antonio Carpio, is trying an earlier model, the convenor one, in which elders around a table put forward possible candidates. As for the rest, the candidate comes first, and a party is a formality, an afterthought.
While officially speaking, Feb. 8-May 7, 2022, is the official campaign period for national positions, and March 25-May 7, 2022, is the official campaign period for local elections, in truth for national candidates from the presidency to the Senate, they only have from Feb. 8 to March 25 to actually be campaigned for, by local allies: because starting March 25, it’s every candidate for him/herself as the local races kick off and monopolize the time, attention, and resources of the local candidates.
On another note, March 25, when the ban on appointments (creating/filling positions) and public works kicks in, government essentially goes into suspended animation as no one makes decision and nothing much besides existing payroll gets done: People are packing up.