‘Advocacy’ plugs in aid of election

17 Senate bets, parties splurge
P446M on ‘pre-campaign ads’

Last of Two Parts

THREE MONTHS ahead of the official campaign period for the May 2013 elections, 17 “prospective” candidates to the Senate and their political parties had hit the ground running, bombarding the air waves with what they called “advocacy ads” about themselves and sundry causes they claim to embrace.

They probably would not, for the life of them, call these “campaign ads” in aid of their election.

As far as election laws are concerned, some of them in fact point out that they are in the clear, when asked about the tons of money they spent in what can be described as “pre-campaign ads.”

But these candidates — as well as political parties that placed similar ads — may still be subject to some questioning by state agencies other than the Commission on Elections (Comelec), notably the Office of the Ombudsman and the Bureau of Internal Revenue. The issue is: where did the funds for the often multimillion-peso ad spots come from?

In particular, those still holding public office when they ran or re-ran for the Senate may need to explain how they were able to spend such amounts given the modest salary they were receiving as public servants. That is, if they had bought the ads. Yet even if they did not, they would still need to do some explaining in connection with legal provisions prohibiting them from accepting or soliciting gifts while in public office.

By the TV networks’ published rate cards, the so-called “pre-campaign” ads for the May 13, 2013 elections had a total value of P892 million. Less the estimated 50-percent agency discounts, the ads would amount to about half the cost or P446 million.

The bulk or 90 percent of these ads aired from January 1 to February 11, 2013, while a tenth aired from November 11 to December 31, 2012.

Incumbents, ex-execs

Of the 17 senatorial candidates who starred in pre-campaign ads, seven were incumbent officials at the time the commercials aired: re-electionists Francis Joseph ‘Chiz’ G. Escudero, Aquilino Martin ‘Koko’ L. Pimentel III, and Alan Peter S. Cayetano; then congressmen Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ M. Angara, Joseph Victor ‘JV’ G. Ejercito, and Juan ‘Jack’ C. Ponce Enrile Jr.; and then Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn.

Data from media monitoring agency Nielsen show that from November 11, 2012 to February 11, 2013, these seven incumbent officials were featured in 784 ads with a total indicative cost of P147.6 million.

Cayetano, Enrile, and Hagedorn began appearing in advertisements in November and December 2012. TV commercials starring the other four — Escudero, Pimentel, Angara, and Ejercito — started airing in January 2013.

Hagedorn and Enrile lost in their bids for Senate seats, but the remaining five incumbent officials with pre-campaign ads have since been sworn in as members of the Upper House. Among them were Cayetano and Angara, who had the third and fifth highest pre-campaign ad spends, based on indicative costs: P47.8 million and P38.4 million, respectively.

Not to be outdone, Maria Lourdes Nancy S. Binay, Ana Theresia ‘Risa’ N. Hontiveros, and Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares, who had also served in government in various capacities in 2012, had their own ad blasts ahead of the 90-day official campaign period that commenced on Feb. 12, 2013. Binay, Hontiveros, and Poe-Llamanzares resigned from their government posts soon after they filed their certificates of candidacy. Binay and Poe-Llamanzares are now senators; Hontiveros lost.

Binay, the daughter of Vice President Jejomar ‘Jojo C. Binay, had the second highest pre-campaign ad spend total, reaching P52.7 million.

But that figure was enough for her to rank Number 1 among the senatorial candidates in terms of the value of the ads for her that ran before the official campaign started. In fact, it was just a few million pesos shy of the P56.1 million total ad spend of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA, Habang Tinatahak) — headed by Vice President Binay — that was the overall No. 1 with 96 ads.

Administration coalition Team PNoy or the Liberal Party with its Sa Daang Matuwid landed in fourth spot with 92 ads worth P38.8 million.

Nancy Binay served as her father’s personal assistant and liaison at the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. According to a media officer at the Office of the Vice President, however, she was a volunteer and thus was not on the government payroll.

Poe-Llamanzares, meanwhile, stepped down as chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board after filing her Certificate of Candidacy in October 2012.

Hontiveros, for her part, served as spokesperson of the National Anti-Poverty Commission (NAPC) from August to October 2012, reportedly on a “one-peso consultancy” arrangement.

De facto candidates

By the time these pre-campaign commercials aired, the personalities featured in them — many of whom emerged as winners in the 2013 polls — had already filed their Certificate of Candidacy with Comelec, thus already showing intent to run in the upcoming polls.

But because of a Supreme Court ruling (Penera vs. Comelec) that set the definition of a “candidate” to take effect only at the start of the official campaign period, the poll body cannot really hold these advertisers liable for premature campaigning.

Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, however, both prohibit public officials and employees from soliciting or accepting, directly or indirectly, any gift, in the course of their official duties.

“Receiving any gift,” according to R.A. No. 6713, is defined as “the act of accepting directly or indirectly, a gift from a person other than a member of his family or relative as defined in this Act, even on the occasion of a family celebration or national festivity like Christmas, if the value of the gift is neither nominal nor insignificant, or the gift is given in anticipation of, or in exchange for, a favor.”

These laws explicitly bar public officials from soliciting or accepting gifts in cash or kind, in the course of their official duties. In plain terms, these laws prohibit them from using their public office for private gain.

Nominal millions?

Assistant Commissioner Ariel G. Ronquillo of the Civil Service Commission (CSC) explains the conditions or the context of how these two laws should be read. He says that an official should not receive any gift from a person that has a current transaction, may have a potential transaction, or has had a transaction in the office where he/she is serving.

As an example, Ronquillo says he cannot receive gifts from people who are or were parties to a case in the CSC. “That prohibition is absolute,” notes Ronquillo, who is also the director of the CSC’s Office for Legal Affairs.

“But there are exceptions,” he clarifies. “If ever a person has no transaction in your office and just wants to give you a gift, that may be allowed — subject to the condition that the gift should be nominal.”

He says the term “nominal” is not defined in law. But per CSC’s analysis, the lawyer says, “‘Nominal’ should be something that that will not influence your action, your decision as a holder of a government office.”

“For example,” Ronquillo continues, “if this (gift) is something that will make you indebted to the giver, an official should not accept it especially if your position itself will be the ultimate prize of the gift. Then you will say, ‘I was elected because of that certain person.’ Now that is not allowed.”

Political advertisements do not appear to be nominal, he says. “Because these involve millions and millions (of pesos),” he points out. “Especially if that’s the reason why one has been elected, then that’s not nominal. You practically owe your position to whoever financed your advertisements. That cannot be considered nominal.”

In the meantime, he says, if the ads were funded using personal funds, then it should appear in the official’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) that the amount used was well within the official’s capacity to spend.

“If the candidate-official did not use his or her personal funds,” says Ronquillo, “then he or she should declare where the money came from for transparency.”

Source of money

Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim also says that the SALN would be a key document in determining if a candidate-official used his or her personal funds to pay for pre-campaign ads as well as the official campaign — and if he or she really had the capacity to do so. He says that while the issue of pre-campaign ads is not within the purview of the poll body, it is a matter that can be handled by the Office of the Ombudsman as repository of the SALN.

Lim, who notes that several candidates declared that they had used personal monies for their campaign, comments, “So if you look at the SALN, (you ask) does the candidate have the capacity? If not, then where did the candidate get the money if he or she did not declare any contributor?”

For sure, Lim says, the concept of gift-giving doesn’t necessarily mean that one has to give favors to the giver. But “the fact of just being given by reason of office” already raises an issue, he says.

PCIJ reviewed the annual SALNs filed individually by the seven senatorial candidates who were also public officials at the time of the campaign. The review suggests that personal funds for some of them may not have been used or would not have been enough to finance the multimillion-peso cost of the advertisements. This observation was made even though the SALNs do not include expense and cash flow details.

For instance, the indicative ad cost of the ads that featured Cayetano and Escudero are much higher than the senators’ declared net worth in their SALNs as of December 31, 2012. The 2012 SALNs were filed in April 2013.

Escudero appeared in 18 ad spots, which were valued at about P6.5 million, including the estimated agency discount. But the senator’s net worth as of December 31, 2012, was only P4.02 million. His declared cash was also only P900,000.

By comparison, Cayetano appeared in a lot more ads — 49 — from November to December 2012. These, however, reached only about P9.9 million.

Cayetano’s net worth, though, even increased by P98,172 from P23.2 million in 2011 to P23.3 million in 2012. At the same time, his current net worth of P23.3 million is also below the total indicative cost of the ads the featured him for the entire three months before the official campaign period (Nov. 11, 2012 to Feb. 11, 2013). That batch of ads had a total cost of P47.8 million or more than double his wealth.

Like Cayetano, Enrile and Hagedorn also started appearing in ads in November and December 2012. Both became richer as well according to their SALNs. This suggests that personal funds were not used to buy their ads, even though their respective declared net worth show them as being able to do so.

Enrile reported a growth in his wealth by P1.99 million from P76.7 million in 2011 to P78.7 in 2012. From November 2012 to December 2012, the then Cagayan congressman appeared in 31 ads worth P7 million. For the full three months before the campaign, his ad spots reached a total of 138, valued at P28.8 million. Enrile’s 2012 SALN shows him as having a net worth of P78.7 million.

Then Puerto Princesa Mayor Hagedorn appeared in four ad spots worth about P280,904 in December 2012. His pre-campaign ad spending, however, reached P7.9 million. Hagedorn’s 2012 net worth, meanwhile, was P89.8 million. This means his wealth rose by P20.6 million since the previous year, when he reported a net worth of P69.2 million.

Winners, early birds

Like Escudero, winning candidates Pimentel, Angara, and Ejercito, also began appearing in ads last January.

Pimentel, another re-electionist senator, was featured in 29 ad spots with an indicative cost of P6.4 million. His net worth as of 2012 was P16.9 million. Pimentel also reported having cash on hand, in bank, and in time deposits with a total value of P2.1 million.

Then Aurora Representative Angara appeared in 202 ads, which were valued at about P38.5 million less the estimated agency discount. Of these ads, 106 also featured his father Edgardo ‘Ed’ Angara, then an incumbent senator.

The younger Angara’s net worth as of 2012 was P99.5 million. He also reported personal properties worth P54.6 million according to the 2012 SALN Summary released by the House of Representatives.

Then San Juan City Representative Ejercito appeared in 78 ads six weeks prior to the official campaign period. These ads, per the networks’ published cards, were valued at a total of P23.2 million. Less the estimated agency discounts, the ads would amount to about P11.6 million.

Ejercito reported a net worth of P72.6 million in his 2012 SALN. He also declared personal properties worth P60.4 million according to the 2012 SALN Summary released by the House of Representatives.

Queried on who paid for his pre-campaign ads, Ejercito replied, “I did not pay for it nor commissioned it, thus I have no authority on its details. Furthermore, the Commission on Elections had said that no law has been violated.”

Relatives foot bill?

Mina Pangandaman, Sonny Angara’s campaign coordinator, said that family and close friends paid the advertisements for the now freshman senator. But she said that they are not sure if the figures cited by PCIJ are correct. Ad rates before the campaign period, she said, were “much lower and came with many freebies.”

Angara and Ejercito were among the 13 senatorial candidates PCIJ sent letters to, seeking information on who had paid for their pre-campaign ads. PCIJ sent query letters to UNA and the Liberal Party as well. As of this writing, only Angara, Paolo Benigno ‘Bam’ A. Aquino IV, Ejercito, Hontiveros, Poe-Llamanzares, Cynthia A. Villar, and the Liberal Party have responded to PCIJ’s query.

Taking ranks six to 10 in the Top 10 pre-campaign ad spenders were Aquino (P36.6 million), Villar (P33.9 million), Enrile (P28.8 million), former senator Juan Miguel ‘Migz’ F. Zubiri (P25.3 million), and Hontiveros (P16 million).

Following them in terms of pre-campaign ad spends were Poe-Llamanzares (P15.7 million), Ejercito (P11.6 million), Richard J. Gordon (P10 million), Hagedorn (P7.9 million), Escudero (P6.5 million), Pimentel (P6.4 million), Ma. Ana Consuelo ‘Jamby’ A.S. Madrigal (P5 million), Margarita ‘Tingting’ R. Cojuangco (P4.5 million), and Ricardo ‘Dick’ L. Penson (P3.6 million).

In a written reply to PCIJ’s query, former Las Piñas representative Villar said that the ads in question could be the infomercials that had aired from November 2013 to February 2013 “to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Villar Foundation and to promote public awareness of its advocacies.” She said that these were not campaign ads and were paid for by some of the trustees of the Villar Foundation.

Nielsen’s ad monitoring counts an advertisement to a personality if such person appears dominantly in the material; it does not capture who may have actually paid for the commercial.

Corporate ‘advocacies’

Nielsen data show that Villar was featured in 121 ads using the material “Misis Hanep Buhay.

Aquino, meanwhile, said that “his appearances in a number of ads” were aired “as part of various campaigns and advocacies before the elections.” These ads, he said, “include PLDT’s ‘Project Pagsulong,’ Jollibee Yumbassadors, GoNegosyo ads, and the myTV show ‘SME Go Powered by Go Negosyo’ that was aired over GMA News TV and PTV 4, which might have been counted by Nielsen as well.”

Nielsen’s monitoring report shows that Aquino was featured in 326 ads using the materials “Bida ang Mamamayan (Go Negosyo)” and “Ten Outstanding Young Persons.” These commercials aired on ABS-CBN 2, ANC, GMA-7, Islands TV 13, Solar Sports, and TV 5.

Teodoro ‘Neil’ V. Llamanzares, husband of Grace Poe-Llamanzares, noted that his wife’s advocacy ads “are not covered by the Comelec’s disclosure rule, as these broadcasts were not undertaken during the campaign period.” Nevertheless, he said that members of his wife’s family and family friends paid for the ads. Neil Llamanzares had also headed his wife’s campaign finance team.

Grace Poe-Llamanzares was shown in 89 ad spots introducing herself as the daughter of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr. (Anak ni FPJ and Minahal Nila Ako), according to Nielsen data.

Responding on behalf of the campaign team of Hontiveros, lawyer Teddy Rigoroso said that the campaign team does not have custody of official receipts and/or contracts over the ads. Like Llamanzares, he also pointed out that “the ads allegedly aired from November 11, 201(2) to February 11, 2013 are outside the coverage of the obligation of elective candidate to report in their SOCE (Statement of Election Contributions and Expenditures).”

In an interview, Liberal Party general counsel Raul Daza told PCIJ that he was not aware of the source of funds used for the party’s pre-campaign advertisements. He also said that those who filed their Certificate of Candidacy are considered official candidates only once the campaign period starts.

“In our political system, politicians join parties because they are bound by a common political belief and for mutual assistance,” remarks CSC’s Ronquillo. It could well be that political parties financed the ads, provided they had the capacity to do so, he says.

He adds that family members could be the source of funds for the ads. “It’s in the consideration of being a member of the same family — that it is not meant to influence your decision, but merely to help,” says Ronquillo. “For example, if I want to help my sibling and I have the means, that’s fine. It’s between siblings, so that’s okay.”

‘Moderate your gifts’

But Comelec’s Lim begs to differ somewhat. He says while gifts from family are allowed, these should be moderate. He says as well, “What defines moderate? If your family gives you P5 million, would that be moderate? I mean, are there definitions of ‘moderate’ depending on your income level?”

PCIJ also wrote to the Office of the Ombudsman requesting either an interview or comment on the issue of pre-campaign advertising by candidates.

In a written reply, Assistant Ombudsman Asryman T. Rafanan said that the Office of the Ombudsman was “refraining from rendering an advisory opinion in the nature of declaratory relief on issues or matters that are the subject or may become the subject of proceedings before this Office.”

“The issues or questions arising from pre-campaign advertising may ripen into an actual case over which the Office may exercise criminal or administrative disciplinary jurisdiction,” Rafanan wrote. “This Office is thus constrained to decline the request to render a comment thereon.”

“The practice,” he added, “is being observed to avoid any prejudgment of the issue and consequently preserve the impartiality of this Office in the discharge of its investigative and adjudicative functions.” — PCIJ, July 2013