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Laws sleeping in pre-campaign? Loopholes cited on bets’ billion-peso spending

PCIJ URGES 'ANTI-CORRUPTION, PRO-POOR' CANDIDATES TO BE TRANSPARENT, ACCOUNTABLE
/ 07:48 PM March 09, 2016
Malou Mangahas

PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas. YUJI GONZALES/INQUIRER.net

The upcoming national elections in May is a job application where an “integrity check” among candidates, being applicants for the highest posts in the land, is necessary.

Thus said journalist Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), in a forum titled “Pera, Pulitika, Eleksyon 2016” on Wednesday.

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“Dahil hindi sakop ng election laws ang pre-campaign spending, parang masyadong maraming sikretong ayaw buksan ang ating mga kandidato,” Mangahas said.

(Because election laws do not cover pre-campaign spending, it seems like there are many secrets our candidates do not want to open up about.)

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“Mahirap ang kampanyang ito kasi pare-pareho sila ng sinasabi. Lahat ayaw sa korapsyon, lahat mahal ang mahihirap. Pero ang problema parang lahat ‘pag tinanong mo saan galing ang pondo sa kanilang kampanya, marami ayaw nang magsalita,” she added.

(This campaign is difficult because they are saying the same things. All of them are against corruption and love the poor. But the problem is when you ask all of them where their campaign funds came from, most of them are mum about it.)

Citing data from Nielsen Media, PCIJ reported that a total of 105,000 “social concern” ads worth P6.7 billion feature apparent candidates in the May polls from March 2015 to January 2016, ahead of the official 90-day campaign period which started last Feb. 9.

READ: Net worth vs. P6.7-B pol ads bill: Top bets in debt, deficit spending?

While acknowledging the political ads’ role in “information awareness” and “general familiarity” among voters, Mangahas said it is important for candidates to be “transparent, accountable, and inclusive” when it comes to their campaign spending.

“Isa pa naming inaalala na parang ang agang nagsimula March nagsimula… Grabe ‘yung trend in terms of volume of money and duration of time (Another thing concerns us, it seems like it started in March, which is quite early. The trend in terms of volume of money and duration of time is (surprising). They peaked too soon,” Mangahas said.

“The question in our minds, tulog ba ang mga batas pagdating ng pre-campaign period (are laws sleeping during pre-campaign period?)” she added.

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Mangahas noted that Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, the last to declare his presidential bid, was featured in advertisements as early as March 2015, while the other presidential candidates Vice President Jejomar Binay, administration bet Mar Roxas, and Sen. Grace Poe aired ads between July and August last year—all months before the filing of their certificates of candidacies (COCs).

Citing data obtained by PCIJ, Mangahas added that the national candidates spent a bigger amount of money in political ads rather than investing in campaigns that educate the public on the Bangsamoro Basic Law.

The PCIJ also estimated that the candidates’ P6.7-billion pre-campaign spending could have provided 63,605 five-member families their basic food and non-food needs for a year, 23,103 permanent housing for victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” 95,714,285 pairs of slippers for the poor, and 13,400 public school classrooms.

READ: Pre-campaign ads hit P6.7B: Bribery, tax evasion, impunity?

“Hindi malinaw kung kanino ba ‘yung mandato ng kandidato, sa mga botante ba o sa mga donors?” Mangahas said.

(It is not clear for whom is the mandate of the candidate? Is it for the voters or donors?)

“Mahalagang bagay na medyo magtapat nang kaunti ang mga kandidato dahil nagkakasundo nga sila eh, ayaw nilang lahat sa pandarambong. Pero parang lahat sila mahiyain kapag tinatanong na kung saan galing ang pondo. Parang puro iwas pusoy,” she added.

(It is important that candidates should be honest as they are all united in saying they don’t want deceit. But they are silent when you ask them where they get their funds. They all seem to avoid answering it.)

Mangahas said some legal loopholes allow candidates to get away with overspending even before the start of the campaign period.

“Ang nakikita naming problem, may lusot sa batas dahil hindi nagkakasundo ‘yung mga batas. ‘Yung batas sa eleksyon klaro naman kaso hindi naman ‘yun ang batas na nilalapat kahit na nagfile na ng COC dahil hindi pa raw campaign period,” she said.

(We can see that there are loopholes in our laws because there are conflicts in the said laws. The election laws are clear but such are not applied even when (a candidate) has filed his or her COC as it is not yet considered the campaign period.)

For its part, the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) campaign finance office admitted that it has no jurisdiction to go after candidates and their premature “policacies” (pol ads advocacies) unless the campaign period had started.

Citing Section 13 of Republic Act 9369 or the Election Automation Law, Comelec’s Atty. Sonia Bea Wee said “any person who files his COC within this period shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his COC.”

“‘Pag file ng COC, dapat i-consider na siya na candidate. We have been advocating in Congress na sana ibalik sa original definition pero wala pa,” Wee said.

(Upon filing of COC, a person should be considered a candidate. We have been advocating in Congress to revert it to its original definition but there is no progress yet.)

However, Mangahas said candidates could be held liable for their pre-campaign spending through the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s 30-percent Donor’s Tax on donations by strangers, and under Anti-graft and Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits incumbent officials from receiving gifts.

“Sana mas open, mature at vigorous ang discussion sa public domain sa ganitong mga bagay,” Mangahas said.

(I hope the discussion in the public domain on these matters will be more open, mature and vigorous.)

Wee said the public can access the summary reports of the candidates’ ad contracts under the campaign finance tab of the Comelec website.

Mass media entities are required to submit to the Comelec a copy of all contracts for advertising, promoting or opposing any political party or the candidacy of any person for public office within five days after its signing.

However as of press time, Wee said only ABS-CBN and Solar network have submitted ad contracts to the Comelec. Among the candidates seeking national posts, only Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Poe, Roxas, Sen. Francis Escudero, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo, Sen. Sonny Trillanes, and Sen. Alan Cayetano have ad contracts so far. RAM

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TAGS: campaign, Certificate of Candidacy, CoC, Comelec, Commission on Elections, Elections 2016, loopholes, Malou Mangahas, PCIJ, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Spending
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