The television commercials featuring Energy Secretary Jericho Petilla are an egregious example of premature campaigning and should be stopped. It’s bad enough that some political aspirants are now also running TV ads ahead of the campaign period, but at least those were privately funded. Not so in the case of Sec. Petilla, whose P150-million TV ad campaign is most likely financed by taxpayers’ money.
As some critics point out, Sec. Petilla’s ads are meant to bolster his candidacy in 2016. In April, he was quoted as saying in reports that he would run for either the House or the Senate. In preparation for that, he submitted his resignation before the Holy Week. Actually, the secretary tried to resign in December 2013, after failing to deliver on his promise to restore power to all the areas affected by Typhoon Yolanda. President Aquino did not accept the resignation then, and recently, Palace officials announced that the secretary would remain in office until a replacement was found.
In Sec. Petilla’s defense, the Palace said he was merely doing his job. Officials harped on the public-service message of the ad that urges the public to conserve. But the authorities do not acknowledge that Sec. Petilla hopes to return to elective office, and that the ads give him an undue advantage at the people’s expense.
Sec. Petilla denies this charge. Referring to his infomercials, he told The Manila Times in a telephone interview on Monday, “It is not a political ad because there is a message to it, and that is to conserve power in order to reduce the demand.” He explained that every 100 megawatts saved lowered consumers’ monthly bills by P700 million. He added that the campaign contributed to the reduction of the overall power consumption during the peak summer months, helping avert a power shortage. Plus, the ad cost was less than the amount allocated for it, which was not even P100 million, the secretary said. Does he expect people to be grateful for that?
What he told The Times next is a non sequitur. “Who is telling the people to conserve energy? It is the DOE. That’s why the head of the agency is the best [person]to promote the campaign.”
Following his logic, we should see company presidents – rather than celebrities or product endorsers – in commercials pitching their products. This is why we agree with the observation that Sec. Petilla is appearing in TV spots not for the public good but for the advancement of his political interests.
Legal options limited
We are not legal experts, but it seems that little can be done to stop Sec. Petilla. For one, the Comelec’s stand on early campaigning is that no law is broken by personalities appearing in ads, because they have yet to file their certificates of candidacy. And as mentioned earlier, the Palace has opted to treat the public as fools in saying that Petilla is only doing his job.
If only we had a President with political will and a sense of right and wrong, Sec. Petilla would be fired. We would see the secretary charged in court for misuse of public funds and compelled to refund the millions spent on his political ads. We might even see the likes of Sec. Petilla banned from public office. But the sad truth is, those in power hold all the cards.