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Comelec tightens rules on substitutions

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections will set a shorter window for the withdrawal and substitution of candidates in the 2025 elections, spotlighting the apparent abuse of the practice in recent years by parties that intentionally field placeholder candidates to make strategic last-minute substitutions. 

Comelec Chairperson George Garcia said on Wednesday that the poll body unanimously agreed during an en banc session to allow candidates to be substituted only until October 8 this year, except for reasons of death or disqualification.

Garcia earlier described the practice as akin to "deceiving" voters.

Using placeholder candidates to apparently buy time and generate hype for a candidate became notoriously commonplace following then-Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's substitution of late PDP-Laban’s Martin Diño in the 2016 presidential elections.

The practice was repeated later on by Duterte's daughter, then-Davao City Sara Duterte, when she filed her candidacy for vice presidency in the 2022 polls as a substitute for Lakas-CMD’s Lyle Uy, two days before deadline.

For the 2022 polls, the Comelec allowed substitution by withdrawal for candidates up to Nov. 15, 2021.

The Omnibus Election Code permits substitutions after the filing period of the certificate of candidacy to prevent parties from being disadvantaged if the candidate withdraws due to death, disqualification or personal choice.

However, Jorge Tigno, University of the Philippines political science professor, said in a 2021 analysis for Fulcrum, that the increasing use of the substitution tactic has exposed "an abuse of electoral laws and a lack of transparency in candidate selection." 

Tigno said in his analysis, however, that loopholes in the rules for substitution "favor the country’s political dynasties" and also exposes the weak party system in the country, "where political elites look upon parties as only marginally significant."