As expected by many, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Commission on Elections to approve guidelines for the May 9, 2022 elections that reflected the new normal.
Resolution No. 10732 does not only institutionalize the Minimum Public Health Protocols (MPHS) but also prohibits what used to be normal in Philippine politics: kissing babies and women, hugging, shaking hands, taking selfies and other forms of physical contact between candidates and voters.
Aspirants are also barred from entering private dwellings during house-to-house campaigns, essentially defeating the purpose of the activity.
The candidates may just as well ride a slow-moving vehicle with windows down or with a sunroof that would allow him to be in full view as he or she waves at the residents.
But then this may not even work, as the same guidelines mandate candidates and their supporters to wear full face shields and face masks at all times during any political activity.
Motorcades are likewise not allowed to stop by the roadside during the campaign while candidates on board their cars can no longer throw to the people shirts or candies as their convoy passes by.
In addition to these restrictions, the candidate, particularly those running for provincial posts, must hire additional staff just to take prepare and file applications for the daily campaign activities with the concerned Comelec Campaign Committees at least 72 hours before the scheduled activity.
The extra hassles brought by the new-normal guidelines means the aspiring public servants must make full use of social media and other means just to reach out to voters, hiring a full staff of internet-savvy youths for the duration of the campaign.
And these naturally mean an additional financial burden on candidate, who will also have to maintain their leaders in the barangays and plaster fences and posts with streamers, tarpaulins and posters.
As one veteran political strategist observed, the 2022 campaign will be more expensive than the run-up to the 2019 elections and it will also be marked with more, not less, violations of Comelec guidelines.
Barring the entry of the reportedly more contagious and dangerous Omicron variant of concern, the increasing vaccination rate and declining new COVID-19 cases would embolden both masked voter and masked candidate to throw caution to the wind and engage in limited physical contact.
Sure, there may not be kissing and hugging but bumping fists or shaking hands will not go away.
Ditto the giving away of shirts, food and candies, especially in the rural villages where the barangay officials tasked by Comelec to monitor every campaign activity would most likely accept freebies themselves or look the other way.
Under the resolution, barangay Officials, tanods, and members of the Barangay Health Emergency Response Team (BHERT) are mandated to impose strict observance with the Minimum Public Health Standards during the conduct of such election campaign activities.
The Philippine National Police and units of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are also tasked to maintain order and security during such campaign activities and to coordinate with barangay officials, tanods and BHERT in the discharge of their functions as necessary.
The reality on the ground is that barangay officials and law enforcement agencies generally leave candidates alone, unless the barangay captain himself is running for a higher post and would naturally use his power to benefit him and his boss.
In past elections, both the PNP and the Army have been largely neutral. But there are exceptions, especially a few instances when a candidate’s convoy was stopped at a checkpoint and boxes of cash intended for vote-buying taken away for “proper disposition.”
For the 2022 campaign period that begins March 25 and ends May 7, barangay officials and tanods assigned to monitor campaign activities are supposed to prepare a report and submit the same to the Municipal Comelec Campaign Committees within 72 hours after the event.
The laissez faire attitude of the past would likely carry over next year, with the monitoring reports to gather dust in the committees’ drawers until someone throws them into the wastebasket.