POLITICAL advertisements are already being aired on radio and television even before the official campaign period for the 2016 national and local elections. But politicians spending big money on such ads cannot be penalized for “premature campaigning” because of a legal loophole.

Election laws and Supreme Court rulings do not prohibit these advertisements as the personalities being promoted are not yet official candidates, according to the head of the University’s political science department.

“As stated in the election law and jurisprudence, premature campaigning takes place if a political aspirant has already filed his or her certificate of candidacy and has engaged in prohibited acts before the campaign period,” Asst. Prof. Dennis Coronacion told the Varsitarian.

In November 2014, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago filed a bill seeking to prohibit any act of premature campaigning or self-promotion one year before the start of the official campaign period.

The bill, according to Santiago, would address the Supreme Court’s decision in the case of Penera v. Comelec (2009), which stated: “Unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the aforesaid campaign period.”

Therefore, based on the ruling, a candidate is only liable for an election offense during the campaign period, implying that no one can be penalized for premature campaigning.

Article X, Sec. 80 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any party, or association of persons, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the campaign period.”

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The official period of campaign shall commence 90 days before the day of election for national candidates and 45 days before the local election for local candidates, according to Article I, Section 3.

The term “candidate” refers to “any person aspiring for or seeking an elective public office, who has filed a certificate of candidacy by himself or through an accredited political party, aggroupment, or coalition of parties,” according to Article X, Sec. 79 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code.

The Senate committee on electoral reforms, headed by Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, began tackling Santiago’s pending bill last May 19.

For the upcoming 2016 national elections, the filing of candidacies is slated in October, while the campaign period will be from February 12 to May 11, 2016 for national candidates and March 30 to May 11, 2016 for local candidates.

Political aspirants are obviously taking advantage of the election law loophole to increase their public exposure and their chances of being elected to office, Coronacion said.

Civil Law Dean Nilo Divina urged lawmakers to revisit election laws. "You see many aspirants resorting to all sorts of media to be able to attract public attention [and] foster name recall,” he said.

Divina pointed out that political aspirants running early advertisements obviously possess more financial resources and are placed at a huge advantage over other potential candidates who do not have campaign funds.

Among prospective candidates for the 2016 elections already airing paid advertisements are Vice President Jejomar Binay, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Sen. Grace Poe, former senator Panfilo Lacson, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano and Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno.

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