Fri, 22 Mar 2019

Screengrab from PCIJ.

THE RACE officially started on February 12, but the contenders have been burning money on advertisements way earlier.

After examining the pre-campaign ad spending of senatorial candidates for the May polls, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) found candidates whose spending exceeded their individually declared net worth.

CMFR cheers PCIJ for this report released on February 13, which compared the amounts spent by senatorial aspirants on ads with their latest Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net worth (SALN). The comparison established that certain candidates spent on ads sums beyond their declared capability to pay for them. The report also showed how existing election laws have failed once again to prevent early campaigning and established with certainty that some candidates aspiring to be lawmakers are openly flout the campaign law.

Based on data from Nielsen Media, an information, data and measurement firm, PCIJ found a free-for-all contest a virtual marketplace for votes, starting with a circus of pre-campaign ads on air, on ground, and online.

The report said the combined ad spending of 18 candidates on TV, radio, print and outdoor ads has reached PHP2.4 billion, noting that only a few candidates have net worth values bigger than the amounts they spent on ads.

It also found that those with the lowest net worth, the biggest liabilities, and the smallest cash on hand are, as of their latest Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN), among the biggest spenders on pre-campaign ads.

Bong Go, former special assistant to the president, ranked first, spending more than PHP420 million, even if he is worth only PHP12.8 million per his latest SALN. Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos follows Go. She spent PHP413,160,423 despite declared a net worth of PHP24,493,452.71 while Mar Roxas is third with PHP401,264,380 spent on ads and a declared net worth of PH98,869, 873. (see image)

Screengrab from PCIJ.

The report described the wide use of television spots and radio ads categorized as social concerns and political advocacy or policacy which aired as early as January 2018

PCIJ spoke to Christian Robert Lim, former election commissioner, who said that: The fact that the net worth of these candidates could not support the costs of the(ir) ad spend necessarily gives rise to the presumption that either the candidate has hidden wealth or that these were donated to the candidate while in public office which either way is questionable conduct for a public official.

PCIJ has subscribed to Neilsen Medias monitoring reports on the political spending of candidates since 2010 and observed that re-electionist candidates for the Senate are repeat offenders.

Previous monitors of CMFR pointed how candidates are getting away with premature campaigning via technicalities. (see monitors: Too Much, Too Soon: Premature Campaigning via Media Exposure, Keeping Go in the Public Mind)

Obviously, huge campaign spending builds up the kind of exposure that assures name recall. These give wealthy candidates and those who have wealthy patrons a distinct advantage, raising questions about the kind of elections that is mobilized primarily by money. This early in the campaign, PCIJs study helps voters evaluate their choices in May.

But beyond May, media should open up a public forum to discuss the need for stronger caps on campaign spending to create a more level playing field for candidates seeking national office.

In a separate report, PCIJ cited laws which prohibit indirect bribery among other acts and transactions.

Here are the other election-related laws:

RA 7166 An Act for Synchronized national and local elections and for electoral reforms, authorizing appropriations therefor, and for other purposes

Omnibus Election Code

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