Time to scrap 'deceptive' substitution scheme for aspiring candidates – analysts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 5) – Filipinos love drama, and some politicians know just how to play it.

Existing election rules allow last-minute political aspirants to join the race through substitution, which was how then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte became one of the presidential candidates in 2016.

However, two political analysts said a similar maneuver might not work this time, adding that the option to substitute should now be removed.

"I'm not so sure if people will still buy it because it's no longer fresh. It has been used by Duterte in the 2016 elections," Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco, associate professor at the University of the Philippines' political science department, said in an interview. "There's a guessing game behind it pero [but] as to whether it will lead to votes, I don't know."

There are only three days left for aspiring candidates in the May 2022 polls to submit their certificates of candidacy (COCs) before the Commission on Elections. However, the list of bets will not be final until after Nov. 15 due to possible substitutions.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said there are two types of substitution. First is voluntary substitution, where an aspirant who previously filed a COC withdraws his intent to run to give way to a fellow party member aiming for the post.

Jimenez told reporters on Monday that the substitute candidate must be a member of the same political party and not just of a group that's part of an alliance. He added that the poll body has not received applications from party coalitions for the 2022 elections.

Meanwhile, there's also involuntary substitution, for when a candidate dies or is disqualified from the race before May 9. Rules allow for a relative who shares the same surname to jump in until noontime of election day, and votes cast will be counted in their favor.

Lawyer Tony La Viña, former dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said another substitution may be in the works. He added that Senator Bong Go could just be a placeholder for the President in the vice-presidential race -- the same tactic employed by PDP-Laban member Martin Diño for Duterte in 2015.

Duterte earlier said he intends to run as vice president for continued immunity from lawsuit, although Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra and legal experts have said that it is only the sitting president who enjoys such a perk.

La Viña added that the system is deceptive and should already be removed.

"It's already an outdated provision because it is based on the idea that political parties are the way we organize our politics. It's simply not true in Philippines now," he told CNN Philippines. "This is an old trick, and an old trick needs to be retired. We need to have more mature politics in this country, our politics has been hijacked by personalities and by families."

For La Viña, replacements through involuntary withdrawals from the race are "justified." However, voluntary switch-ups should not be allowed.

"You are fooling the people, you are lying to the people," he added. "From the very beginning you already know what you want to do...then you just pretend that you changed your mind."

Eric Alvia, secretary general of the poll watchdog National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), said separately that substitutions should only be allowed "for death or mental/physical incapacity" of the original filer of candidacy.

"While not illegal, we view this as an opportunistic tactic to extract a competitive advantage of 'reserving' or 'parking' a candidate slot for a position," Alvia said. "Feigning to run or not to run for a post reveals to what extent a candidate or political party will go to extract a win or advantage. Sadly, that's part of the game."

Franco pointed out that changing a candidate in the middle of the game gives a sense that aspiring leaders are not really serious about serving the people.

"The fact that we have that (substitution) creates so much uncertainty. How can you even begin to ask about platforms if they don't know who's running for which position?" she added.

La Viña said a new law is needed to do away with the substitution scheme.