Campaign Stretch

FactCheck UP Diliman called the College of Mass Communication (CMC) electoral campaign “the dirtiest in this year’s election.” We will not concede to such a hasty generalization. However, we cannot dismiss the fact that recent events may have contributed to this assertion.

On Feb. 11 and 16, candidates from the Interdependent Student-Centered Activism (ISA) were seen wearing yellow shirts bearing their nicknames on the back. On Feb. 17, the Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP CMC (STAND UP-CMC) filed a complaint with the College Student Electoral Board (CSEB), citing Art. 8 Sec. 1 of the University Student Electoral Code (USEC): “The giving, distribution and use of buttons, badges, matches, T-shirts, food, multimedia promotional materials, gifts and other forms of political gimmickry shall be prohibited.” The parties faced off when the CSEB convened on Feb. 18. ISA was warned for the violation. According to the USEC, penalties could range from formal warning to the disqualification of the entire slate.

But the story does not end there. On Feb. 19, ISA said it was agreed upon in a meeting between the parties and the incumbent student council that only shirts with the name and/or logo of the party—not the candidates’ nicknames—would be banned.  The party filed a counter-complaint accusing STAND UP-CMC members of wearing on Feb. 17 t-shirts bearing the name and logo of STAND UP-CMC. In defense, STAND UP-CMC said the person seen wearing the shirt was John Francis C. Losaria, who was part of the campaign team in 2008, when the use of shirts was still allowed. STAND UP-CMC said he was not a member of the party or of the campaign team this year.

The case is now up for the CSEB to decide, just hours before the first ballot is cast on the 24th.

It all boils down to “political gimmickry.” Even Prof. Lourdes Portus, College Secretary and de facto CSEB chair, said its definition laid out in the USEC is vague. The Code only said shirts were not allowed, but it did not explicitly state what constitutes a gimmicky shirt. Should it have the logo and name of the party? Or does a candidate name on a shirt suffice for a warning from the CSEB? Do these rules extend to alumni and former party members as well? Even the penalties for violations during campaign period are not clear for college candidates. That has been open for individual colleges to interpret.

In times that the system is flawed, aspiring student leaders should let their consciences be their guides and err on the side of caution. Do the parties’ actions still respect the students’ right to fair and honest elections, where money or any other form of undue advantage does not determine who wins the most seats?  In the same way loopholes in the national Omnibus Electoral Code are exploited to allow premature campaigning for the 2010 national elections, the hazy limitations imposed in student campaign season leave much room for the imprudent to engage in political gimmickry and exorbitant spending.

We are not here to define the specifics of political gimmickry. That is a task we urge the CSEB to accomplish by drafting Implementing Rules and Regulations to clarify the vague points of the Code. We suggest adding a limit to the amount parties and individual candidates can spend, considering that a similar provision exists in the Omnibus Election Code.

More so, we are not here to point fingers at any particular party.  The merits of their cases are for the students to decide. For that reason, we urge the parties to come clean—to tell all the students the motives behind their actions and to clarify reports—both verified and unverified—and accusations about alleged violations of the Code. In a college that prizes transparency, that is an obvious must.

Let us not forget that this issue is just one of the many factors influencing the vote. We urge students to look at each candidates’ platforms and track records. Instead of asking around and relying on second hand information, ask the candidates themselves. Find out what their stand on the issues are.

We need to prove that the CMC voting public is not as dumb as some people make it seem. The CMC campaign has been called the “dirtiest campaign” out there. It is up to all of us to clear our name.

Author: Franz Jonathan G. de la Fuente (TNP)

Unwell--Matchbox Twenty ought to credit me.