By Andrew Jonathan S. Bagaoisan
Live from Comelec Main, Day 1 of COC Filing
209 days before Halalan 2016
This week officially begins election season in the Philippines. It’s also the general elections–that time every six years where all posts from councilor to president of the republic are up for grabs.
It’s part-celebration, part-chaos, all-challenge.
The best preview of the atmosphere and the stakes is seen here at the Comelec main office in Intramuros, which opened its doors this week to people filing their certificates of candidacy (COCs) for national posts.
Despite efforts to put a sense of order, the road to 2016 still opened with drum bangs, hyped crowds, unruly shooters and comic cameos.
For the Commission on Elections, it’s been a challenge to minimize, if not prevent chaos and confusion at the filing venue.
They placed barriers on the street across the building to contain crowds and allowed only three people to accompany a candidate inside.
They freed up the Project Management Office, the previously cramped COC filing space, by setting up a separate area outside the room for photo-ops and press conferences.
Then, the commission en banc decided the week before to have media organizations apply for accreditation to cover the filing.
The plans and agreements unraveled in just the first hour of Day 1, as Vice President Jejomar Binay filed his COC for the presidency.
A phalanx of photographers and cameramen followed him in, ramming into the small building entrance and taking the guards by surprise.
After filing, Binay and his running mate Sen. Gringo Honasan were mobbed on their way to the press con area across the hall.
Visibly irked Comelec director James Jimenez had to shout over the mic for the shooters to settle down.
Binay was the first among the big names in the presidential race to file, but he wasn’t the first to do so.
Bragging rights went to former TESDA chief Augusto “Buboy” Syjuco Jr. and perennially rejected presidential wannabe Elly Pamatong, whose COCs were both listed as received at exactly 8 a.m.
Binay was only the 6th of the 22 who filed on Day 1. Still, he overshadowed all the earlier candidates and got the most attention from the media.
A photographer of Syjuco who was supposed to enter as one of the candidate’s three companions complained to the building guards for not letting him in. Moments later, the guards failed to prevent the stream of shooters that barged in after Binay.
Despite the attention, Binay gave no comment at the press con area and left quickly after a photo-op with Honasan.
Comelec chairman Andres Bautista noted the difference later that day.
“We can’t control which candidates want to talk,” he told reporters. “I saw Elly Pamatong presenting himself to be interviewed and none of you wanted to interview him.”
For reporters, especially those covering the Comelec by themselves, it has been a challenge to pick their battles among the influx of personalities filing their COCs not just for president, but also for VP, senator, and partylist representative.
For candidates, it’s a bigger challenge to stand out.
Asked about sharing the spotlight that morning with Binay, Syjuco said it made no difference. They were all treated fairly by the Comelec, he said.
(Disclosure: The photographer mentioned earlier is my brother. He has been working with Syjuco’s team since mid 2015.)
Other candidates who came without supporters like Binay or Syjuco had their own ways of calling attention.
Elly Pamatong burned a flag of China outside the Comelec. Also outside, two elderly aspirants ended up talking at each other in front of the media.
Some made sweeping promises. One pledged to pay off the country’s debt. Another, to wipe out all beer houses. Some brought their personal stories.
Reporter Pia Gutierrez found Sel Hope Kang arguing with a guard at the entrance. Hope didn’t know there were requirements to fill out and she felt she was being harassed.
After being convinced to have her 2 x 2 picture taken and complete the form, Hope came out all smiles having passed her COC.
In 2004, the Comelec got 84 COCs for the presidential race. In 2010, 99 people submitted forms. Out of them, only 5 became official candidates in 2004 and 9 in 2010.
With the fate of the country’s direction on the line, the total number of COC filers for the highest post in the land this 2016 could be higher.
And it’s only Monday.