MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday said that they can do nothing about the election candidates and their premature campaign expenses going way above the normal.
“Unfortunately, we cannot do anything about it,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said.
Jimenez said that the poll body only looks after the spending of candidates during the campaign period.
“All these happened before the campaign period. This is premature campaigning,” the poll body official said. “The Comelec only checks (expenses) during the campaign period. This is what we have been pointing as a loophole in the law.”
In a report by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the pre-campaign ad spending of some 18 senatorial candidates on TV, radio, print, and outdoor have already reached PHP2.4 billion.
PCIJ noted that the top spenders thus far were Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go, Ma. Imelda “Imee” Marcos and former vice-presidential candidate, Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II.
In the run-up to the May 2019 polls, the 12 candidates under the Hugpong ng Pagbabago-Partido Demokratikong Pilipino (HNP-PDP-LABAN) banner and endorsed by Duterte, incurred a combined adspend of P1.32 billion in the last 13 months ending January 2019.
A third of this total or P422,498,647 consists of ads purchased by and for Go, the biggest spender thus far among all 61 candidates for senator.
While Marcos, currently the third-term governor of Ilocos Norte, had acquired P413,160,423 worth of ads from January 2018 to January 2019.
Furthermore, the opposition Otso-Diretso! team of the Liberal Party had no ads at all in 2018. In January 2019, however, it bought 107 TV ad spots that ran for a total of 2,910 seconds on ABS-CBN and GMA-7 Network. Its adspend bill: P132,256,000.
Three of its candidates are also among the top 20 pre-campaign ad-spenders, including two of LP’s frontrunners, with Roxas and re-electionist Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV.
The report said the spending covers the period between January 2018 to January 2019.
On the other side of the campaigning, the civil servants have exposed on social-media posts that certain government agencies have been required to post tarpaulins bearing the image of Go.
“Unfortunately,” says former Election Commissioner Robert Lim, “due to a Supreme Court ruling and as restated by the Civil Service Commission in its Memorandum Circular No. 02, Series of 1992,” the president, the vice president, Cabinet members, all other elective officials, and their personal and confidential staff “are deemed to be holding political offices and are not covered by the prohibition on electioneering or partisan political activity.”
Nonetheless, Lim says, “While it may be legal, the same remains to be morally reprehensible as our expectations of government officials who are using official time of the government are best spent on resolving the multitude of problems besetting our country rather than campaigning.” (With reports from PNA/PCIJ)