THE hundreds of billions of pesos already spent by presidential candidates even before the start of the election period should send voters a “red flag” signal indicating corruption, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Sunday.
“A President’s salary is only P120,000 a month. He or she may, thus, expect to earn only P8.64 million for the six years that he or she is in office. These big spenders, therefore, cannot say that they will earn their money back if elected,” Santiago pointed out.
The senator was reacting to news reports published recently on the ad spending of national candidates in 2015, showing Manuel Roxas 2nd–Liberal Party standard- bearer–as the top ad spender, shelling out P774 million from January to December 2015.
The reports also showed Vice President Jejomar Binay as the second biggest ad spender, having spent P695 million, while independent presidential candidate Sen. Grace Poe ranked third with P694 million.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who declared his candidacy on November 2015, spent P129,599,000 on television, radio and print ads.
“The question we must ask is this: How will these politicians recover the scandalous amounts they spent for their campaign? The simple answer is that they will steal from public funds, or will at least be tempted to do so. An alternative would be to give favors to rich contributors, to the detriment of public interest,” said Santiago, who is also running for President, with Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as her running mate.
According to her, the figures will show that almost all of her rivals already spent beyond the expected limit for campaign expenses and it was made months before the campaign period could even begin.
By Commission on Elections (Comelec) standards, she said, every presidential candidate may spend only P10 per voter, or a total of P545 million for the projected 54.5 million voters in 2016.
Although a Supreme Court ruling in the 2009 case of Peñera v. Comelec had virtually repealed Section 80 of the Omnibus Elections Code that prohibits premature campaigning, Santiago said, excessive ad spending contradicts the constitutional principle that “a public office is a public trust.”
Section 80 states, “It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any party, or association of persons, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the campaign period.”
Santiago, the only presidential candidate who is yet to release political ads, at the same time said she will call for a Senate inquiry into the ad splurge.
The senator has two proposed measures pending at the Senate.
One seeks to prevent candidates from engaging in premature campaigning and the other requires politicians who intend to run for public office to file certificates of intention to run for public office (CIRPO), allowing the Comelec to monitor their election-related activities and expenses even before they file certificates of candidacy.
The two bills, Santiago said, intend to reject the Peñera doctrine, which, according to her, allows candidates to work around campaign spending limits imposed by the Comelec during the campaign period.
Meanwhile, election lawyer Romeo Macalintal said candidates who have been spending for their respective campaign ads prior to the campaign period could have further made their ads effective had they only spent time to understand the law.
According to Macalintal, since there is no premature campaigning, candidates can directly state on their ads that they are running for President, Vice President or any other position without getting into trouble with the law.
It will be better for candidates to openly admit in their ads their true intentions rather than publishing or airing ads that do not include the position they are running for, he said.
Macalintal added that paying for ads that do not include the real purpose of a candidate can be considered as either an attempt to trick the people, or an indication of their ignorance of election laws.