Inquirer.net on PDP-Laban extension plea: Grasping at straws?

WHO’S MISSING a presidential candidate? 

As political forces go, the PDP-Laban faction led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi looked desperate. Cusi scrambled to file a petition on December 31 with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), asking for the Extension of the period for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC). 

The petition even asked the Comelec not to print ballots yet because of pending complaints before it, such as that asking for the cancellation of the COC of presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. 

CMFR cheers Inquirer.net‘s analysis of Cusi’s complaint. The article by Kurt dela Peña posted last January 5 outdid other reports which merely quoted sources, critics from PDP-Laban’s Pacquiao faction, senators and election watchdog groups, which all described the petition as a delaying tactic. 

While the article did not touch on it, Cusi’s problems started when popular boxing champion Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao questioned the moves of the party to dismiss him, driving Pacquiao to take his followers out of PDP-Laban to declare his bid for presidency. This left Cusi to await signals from President Duterte, whose position makes him the real leader of the faction. 

This did not help Cusi at all. As pointed out by Emil Marañon III, an election lawyer cited in the article, the party “had all the time to plan for the elections and decide which candidates to field,” but did not do so during the time allowed.  

As proof, the report reviewed September to December last year – tracking the indecision that wracked the process. This included the series of nominations including the joint bids of Senator Christopher “Bong” Go for president and outgoing President Duterte for vice president, and Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa’s own COC for president filed on the deadline day. This was followed by substitutions and withdrawals that showed the Duterte political family in disarray, unable to decide on its strategy and leaving the space for presidential candidate a blank, to date. 

Marañon added that even if Comelec entertains the petition, the agency is bound to follow the elections calendar, which Inquirer.net also provided. The Constitution mandates that the President and Vice President assume office by June 30, and any election delay beyond this date would mean the top two government posts would be empty. Marañon further explained that the same delay would not allow a constitutional succession, as the Senate would only have half its members and no majority to be able to function. The House of Representatives would likewise have no members. The delay in elections then would violate the Constitution.

To preserve the succession line in the event of an elections delay, Senator Panfilo Lacson, Jr.  raised the option of electing a Senate President before Congress adjourns session in June. 

Another source, Professor Maria Ela Atienza, said Filipinos should be wary of how President Duterte’s allies in the Senate would take advantage of this scenario. She added that Comelec’s decision on the Cusi faction’s petition “is a test for democratic processes and institutions which are already at breaking point.”

Inquirer.net’s story serves to remind Filipinos that without the press as a watchdog and without their own vigilance, elected leaders can and will abuse political power, doing as they please and overwhelming the checks that ensure the limits to their power. 

Media should follow the lead set forth by this report and examine the process by which Comelec deals with this preposterous petition. It should be ready to ask questions, identify the commissioners who will decide and flag not just the mockery of electoral laws but the potential political disaster should Comelec accede to Cusi’s ask.