The role of money and COVID in the 2022 poll campaigns
MANILA, Philippines—Have you seen their faces more frequently lately? They’re in television advertisements, on the radio, in social media, in posters, and sometimes, in the flesh—in your neighborhood.
Seeing the faces, names, taglines, and even the chosen campaign colors of political aspirants indicate one thing, the 2022 national and local elections is drawing near.
Some might wonder, however, just how much these aspirants spend every election just to plaster their faces and names everywhere? More so when the COVID-19 pandemic has evidently made an impact on the upcoming elections.
In this article, INQUIRER.net will try to provide details on campaign spending in the Philippines, as well as how the ongoing pandemic has affected the playing field for politicians aspiring for the most coveted positions in the land.
Amid social media posts, TV ads, and caravans, election watchdog Kontra Daya urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to take action against premature campaigning among aspirants who have been already making their presence felt prior to the start of the campaign period.
Kontra Daya convenor and University of the Philippines (UP) professor Danilo Arao said the Comelec should call out aspirants who have been using government programs to boost their chances.
Such programs included going to vaccination drives.
“Although it is not ground for disqualification, [the aspirants] should be called out because they are making a mockery of the process,” he said.
“Comelec should step up and not be confined to legal technicalities on premature campaigning,” Arao said. The poll body, he added, “should not hesitate to publicly call out and warn those who engage in de facto campaigning as early as now.”
Comelec Resolution No. 10695 promulgated last Feb. 10 and released days later, the campaign period for aspirants running for national positions— president, vice president, senator, and party-list groups—is set from Feb. 8, 2022 to May 7, 2022.
The campaign period for local positions—House of Representatives, regional, provincial, city, and municipal officials—will start on March 25, 2022 until May 7, 2022.
The Comelec also noted that campaigning is prohibited on Maundy Thursday (April 14, 2022) and Good Friday (April 15, 2022).
READ: Timeline to election day
However, according to Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, the poll body cannot sanction yet aspirants who will engage in premature campaigning.
“No prohibitions yet for those who filed COC (certificate of candidacy),” Guanzon said in a Tweet posted last Oct. 2.
She said this was in accordance with Republic Act 9369.
Section 13 of RA 9369 stated that:
“Any person who files his certificate of candidacy within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy.”
“Provided, that, unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the aforesaid campaign period.”
“Provided, finally, that any person holding a public appointive office or position, including active members of the armed forces, and officers and employees in government-owned or -controlled corporations, shall be considered ipso facto resigned from his/her office and must vacate the same at the start of the day of the filing of his/her certificate of candidacy.”
Still, the Comelec discouraged aspirants from engaging in early campaigning, as it could be “considered as premature campaigning,” according to Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.
“We all know that it is premature since the campaign period has not yet started,” Jimenez said in a television interview.
He previously explained that the Comelec will monitor the aspirants, but can only call out and regulate their actions at the start of the campaign period.
“Though there’s not really a whole lot we can do with it, we know how much they’re spending,” he said.
Cost of campaigning
According to RA 7166, candidates or political parties are allowed to spend only P10 per voter if running for president or vice president and P3 per voter if running for other positions.
Candidates without support from any political party, or those running as independent, may spend up to P5 per voter, the law says.
Political parties could spend P5 for every registered voter.
“Any provision of law to the contrary notwithstanding, any contribution in cash or in-kind to any candidate or political party or coalition of parties for campaign purposes, duly reported to the commission, shall not be subject to the payment of any gift tax,” the law said.
According to statements of contributions and expenditures (SOCE), reported by Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and which candidates are required to submit to the Comelec at the end of their campaigns, candidates for top positions in the 2016 elections had these expenses.
Candidates for president:
- Grace Poe: P510,845,262.56 — P511,950,000.00 (money raised), P0 (own money spent), P1,104,737.44 (unused funds from raised money), P399,861.41 (unpaid obligation).
- Mar Roxas: P487,331,601.36 — P469,294,462.35 (money raised), P18,037,139.01 (own money spent), -P18,037,139.01 (unused funds), P0 (unpaid obligation).
- Jojo Binay: P463,375,216.37 — P463,453,000.00 (money raised), P0 (own money spent), P77,783.63 (unused funds), P0 (unpaid obligation).
- Rodrigo Duterte: P371,461,480.23 — P375,009,474.90 (money raised), P200,000.00 (own money spent), P3,547.994.67 (unused funds), P0 (unpaid obligation).
- Miriam Santiago: P74,652,689.87 — P74,652,689.87 (money raised), P0 (own money spent), P0 (unused fund), no data on unpaid obligation.
Candidates for vice president:
- Leni Robredo: P418,664,130.60 (funds spent). P423,163,737.34 (money raised), P0 (own money spent), P4,499,606.74 (unused funds), P4,013,257.17 (unpaid obligation.
- Chiz Escudero: P321,014,827.64 (funds spent) P322,567,073.63 (money raised), P0 (own money spent), P1,552,245.99 (unused funds), no data on unpaid obligation.
- Alan Peter Cayetano: P189,129,872.48 (funds spent) P188,930,000.00 (money raised), P199,872.48 (own money spent), -P199,872.48 (unused funds), no data on unpaid obligation.
- Ferdinand Marcos Jr.: P140,539,366.34 (funds spent). P130,707,735.00 (money raised), P9,831,760.42 (own money spent), -P9,831,631.34 (unused funds), P0 (unpaid obligation)
- Antonio Trillanes IV: P61,896,067.36 (funds spent)— P61,159,497.87 (money raised), P736,569.49 (own money spent), -P736,569.49 (unused funds), no data on unpaid obligation.
- Gregorio Honasan: P26,259,889.20 (funds spent)— P25,963,450.00 (money raised), P296,449.20 (own money spent), -296,449.20 (unused funds), no data on unpaid obligation.
- Liberal Party: P241,097,372.73 (funds spent)— P241,097,372.73 (money raised), P60,017,372.73 (party funds spent), P0 (difference-contribution less expenditure), P0 (unpaid obligation).
- Lakas-CMD: P156,786,783.62 (funds spent)— P156,808,700.00 (money raised), P40,292,700.00 (party funds spent), P21,916.38 (difference), P1,666,188.54 (unpaid obligation).
- PDP-Laban: P139,699,835.45 (funds spent)— P140,527,821.45 (money raised), P0 (party funds spent), P827,986.00 (difference), P0 (unpaid onligation).
- United Nationalist Alliance: P90,255,083.15 (funds spent)— P90,382,123.84 (money raised), P2,600,000.00 (party funds spent), P127,040.69 (difference), P0 (unpaid obligation).
- People’s Reform Party: P74,652,689.87 (funds spent)— P75,014,569.15 (money raised), P1,000,000.00 (party funds spent), P361,879.28 (difference), no data on unpaid obligation.
- Makabayang Koalisyon ng Mamamayan: P17,150,000.00 (funds spent) — P17,150,000.00 (money raised), P11,000,000.00 (party funds spent), P0 (difference), no data on unpaid obligation.
- Nacionalista Party: P14,524,998.68 (funds spent) — P14,500,000.00 (money raised), P14,524,998.68 (party funds spent), -P24,998.68 (difference), P0 (unpaid obligation).
- Nationalist People’s Coalition: P5,233,058.56 — P5,233,058.56 (money raised), P0 (party funds spent), P0 (difference), P0 (unpaid obligation).
According to data from the Comelec, there were a total of 54,363,844 registered voters in the country in 2016. However, the voter turnout was 81.95 percent, which meant that around 44,549,848 actually voted during the elections that year.
Who funded who?
President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign expense report for the 2016 elections showed that from the P375,009,474.90 he received, over P298 million was in cash while the rest was in kind—like tables, chairs, lights, sound systems, campaign posters, and vehicles for his motorcades.
Where did these donations come from? A separate report by PCIJ detailed that 89 percent of the money he received for campaign funds came from 13 donors.
- Antonio R. Floirendo Jr.: P75,000,000.00
- Alan Peter S. Cayetano: P71,313,782.53
- Lorenzo A. Te: P30,000,000.00
- Dennis A. Uy: P30,000,000.00
- Samuel C. Uy: P30,000,000.00
- Bienvenido F. Tan: P20,000,000.00
- Nicasio I. Alcantara: P18,000,000.00
- Marcelino C. Mendoza: P14,500,000.00
- Michael G. Regino: P14,000,000.00
- Tomas I. Alcantara: P12,000,000.00
- Felix Reyes Ang: P10,000,000.00
- Patricia Escaler: P5,000,000.00
- Domingo Tao Uy: P5,000,000.00
Most of the donors were from Davao.
Duterte’s biggest donor, former Davao del Norte Rep. Floirendo, was the son of the late banana magnate Antonio Floirendo Sr.
Davao-based businessman Dennis Uy now controls Dito Telecommunity — the country’s third major telecommunications company. Uy is also the chair of F2 Logistics, which was awarded a half-billion-peso contract by Comelec for the 2022 elections.
Robredo, who was the top campaign spender among vice presidential candidates in 2016, received around P406 million in cash from various sources, over P192,000 donations in kind from various sources and P16 million in donations in kind from the Liberal Party.
TV host and the late President Benigno Aquino III’s youngest sister, Kris Aquino, was Robredo’s biggest donor during the 2016 elections.
Based on the vice president’s SOCE, Aquino—who was listed as Kristina Bernadette Cojuangco Aquino—donated a total of P30,830,333.42 to Robredo’s campaign.
Kris Aquino donated the money in four tranches: P10 million in February, P830,222.42 in March, and two P10 million in May.
Her sister, Victoria “Viel” Aquino Dee, also contributed P1 million to Robredo’s campaign.
Other huge contributors for the vice president’s campaign were:
- Harvy Sy Keh: P5 million
- Peter Dionela Garucho Jr.: P 10 million
- Eduardo Borromeo Cu-Unjieng: P10 million
- Jose Fernando Baltasar Buenaventura: P10 million
- Wellington So Lim: P10 million
- Ruben Manuzon Valerio: P10 million
- Cesar Augusto Buenaventura: P10 million
- Edwin Sy Coseteng: P5.5 million
- Richard Chester Caguiat Tamayo: P5.2 million
- Edgardo Reynato Veron Cruz: P5 million
- Dionisio Romero Gil: P5 million
- Patricia Echauz Chilip: P5 million
- Miriam Olaguivel Katigbak: P5 million
- Edward Steven So Lim: P5 million
- Jesus Jaucian Hernandez: P5 million
- Benjamin Han Tek Cua: P5 million
- Regina Sy Coseteng: 4 million
- Marise Carmelia Sy Coseteng: P2 million
Her closest rival, Bongbong Marcos, detailed in his SOCE that P130.7 million in cash and in-kind donations were sent to him from various sources for his campaign. His SOCE, which included the list of the campaign fund donors, is currently unavailable.
Raising the limits
In June, the House of Representatives—voting 213-6 vote with one abstention—approved on third reading a bill seeking to increase the amount of authorized election campaign expenses of candidates for local and national posts.
House Bill No. 6095 sought to amend provisions of Section 13 of RA 7166, or “An Act Providing for Synchronized National and Local Elections and for Electoral Reforms, Authorizing Appropriations Therefore, and for Other Purposes”.
Under the bill, candidates for president, vice president, and senators will be allowed to spend up to P50 per voter — five times more than the P10 per voter set by RA 7166.
Other candidates will be allowed to spend 10 times higher than currently allowed — or a total of P30 per voter.
Funds for political parties will also be increased under the bill, with P50 per voter for their national candidates and P30 for local candidates.
Campaign contributions, the bill said, would be exempt from donor’s tax.
A separate bill filed in the Senate also seeks to raise the campaign spending of candidates.
It will increase the spending for presidential and vice-presidential candidates to P50 per voter, P30 per voter for independent candidates and P30 per voter for political parties.
However, the bill, according to Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III would be “too favorable” for rich candidates.
“I’m worried about the national campaign. Maybe we might have authorized a campaign amount that is unrealistic or too favorable for the moneyed candidates,” said Pimentel.
“My interpretation, you have an upper limit on your expenditure and you can choose to place this in ads, you can choose not to place this in ads. So no matter the per minute, per second cost, it’s the candidate’s decision to spend his campaign fund,” he added.
Changing the playing field
The COVID pandemic has had a significant impact not only the voter registration process and the filing of the certificate of candidacy (COC) and certificate of nomination and acceptance (CONA) but is also changing campaign methods like never before in Philippine politics.
Among the health safety protocols for the COVID-19 disease is social distancing — something that is not observed during rallies and face-to-face campaigns before the pandemic.
“The May 2022 elections will be an election like no other because we are facing a pandemic, and by May 2022 we will not have achieve herd immunity. I doubt if even one-half of our voting population would be vaccinated,” said Guanzon in an event last July.
“It is an election like no other because the rules of the game must change, the method of campaign will have to change,” Guanzon said.
“We can’t do face-to-face, I mean you can’t do a big crowd, rally, and so there’s a lot of reliance on social media as a campaign platform which is difficult for Comelec to compute in terms of campaign expenses,” she added.
The poll body, in February, said that it was planning to ban face-to-face campaigning for the May 2022 elections due to the threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Activities, like giving out materials or going out or talking to people face-to-face for campaign purposes — that’s gonna change. Door-to-door campaigns might be prohibited,” Jimenez said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, however, said the proposal to suspend the usual campaigning method should be studied by the Comelec as it may only serve the interests of rich candidates and eventually disenfranchise poor contenders.
The poll body then announced that face-to-face campaign activities for the upcoming polls could still be allowed, but with adherence to strict health protocols.
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists, social media might become a key player in the upcoming elections. Several aspirants, as early as this year, have been releasing election-related content on their social media pages.
In July, the poll body said it will consider regulating social media ads as part of the candidates’ campaign expenses.
“There’s a lot of reliance on social media as a campaign platform, which is difficult for Comelec to compute in terms of campaign expenses. We are hoping that experts will be able to help us with that,” said Guanzon.
“We are looking for a way to compute ads through social media like Facebook and Twitter,” she said.
“We cannot regulate the use of social media [for campaigning]. We don’t have the technology for that. But I think we can compute the expenses if Facebook or Twitter will help,” she continued.
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