Overspending to victory

Comelec rules to disqualify
ER Ejercito as Laguna gov

Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon 'ER' Ejercito. Original source photo courtesy of laguna.gov.ph.

Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon ‘ER’ Ejercito. Photo courtesy of laguna.gov.ph.

LAGUNA IS supposed to be his clan’s ancestral province and he already enjoyed formidable name recall from past political runs and an occasional film career. But Emilio Ramon ‘ER’ Ejercito somehow seems to have found it still necessary to pour considerable sums on campaign ads for his most recent gubernatorial bid, and now the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is on his tail.

Today, Sept. 26, the Comelec First Division promulgated its decision disqualifying ER Ejercito for breaching the lawful spending limits that candidates for local positions may incur.

The decision is not yet final and executory. Comelec’s rules and due process of law allow Ejercito an opportunity to file his motion for reconsideration within five days from his receipt of the resolution’s copy. If he opts to file a motion for reconsideration within the five-day period, the case will then be elevated to Comelec En Banc for resolution.

The poll body had earlier warned candidates in the May 2013 polls that it would be stricter on election rules compliance.

Its First Division’s decision to disqualify Ejercito, however, was prompted primarily by a petition filed by his political rival, Edgar ‘Egay’ San Luis.

In its 13-page resolution, the First Division granted the petition for Ejercito’s disqualification that San Luis had filed; disqualified Ejercito as Laguna governor; ordered Ejercito to “cease and desist from performing the functions of the Provincial Governor of Laguna”; and declared “a permanent vacancy” in the office of the Laguna governor.

Three Commissioners — Lucenito N. Tagle, Christian Robert S. Lim, and Al A. Parreno — who compose the Comelec First Division signed the resolution.

In an interview conducted weeks before the First Division handed down its ruling, Commissioner Lim told PCIJ that winning candidates facing election-related charges would also still be able to hold on to their elected posts until a court convicts them.

Lim said as well that such candidates may be barred from public office if they have a pending disqualification case with Comelec or if their salary grade requires the Sandiganbayan to suspend them from taking their post.

At the time, Lim — head of Comelec’s Campaign Finance Unit (CFU) — had also hinted that his team was already in the process of flagging candidates who may have breached their respective campaign spending limits. Ejercito may thus be just the first in a list of May 2013 campaign overspenders that Comelec could be after.

P3 per voter cap

Current election laws put the spending cap for local candidates at P3 per registered voter in his or her area. In the case of Laguna, Comelec’s Election Records and Statistics Department (ERSD) data show the province as having a voting population of 1,525,522 as of last May, which means those running for governor would have a campaign spending limit of P4,576,566.

In his Statement of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) submitted to Comelec, Ejercito declared a total of P4,101,586.62 worth of election expenses — well within the legal spending cap. Of this amount, P1,132,986.62 went to newspaper, radio, TV and other advertisements, according to his SOCE.

Ad contracts and certificate of performance submitted to the Commission by media outfits, as well as data from private media-monitoring firm The Nielsen Company, however, indicate otherwise.

A complete advertising contract should be able to reflect key information such as the advertiser or who paid for the ad, for whom the ad was bought or the beneficiary candidate, the date in which the contract or booking order was made, the media entity, advertising agency, start and end of publication, number of ad spots and duration, medium, contract cost, package/net cost, tax to be withheld, and material to be used in the advertisement.

The networks’ certificates of performance, meanwhile, are official reports certifying the airing of ads for the account holder (or the entities that placed the ads). These show the dates and time when the ads were broadcasted.

Overspent by P19M

Based on these documents — copies of which were obtained by PCIJ — Ejercito appears to have overshot the campaign expenditure cap by at least P19 million. This is primarily because of his campaign-ad expenses that reached a total of more than P23 million.

For instance, per the contract and certificate of performance submitted by ABS-CBN to Comelec, Gov. ER Ejercito purchased seven 210-second political ad spots with the network through Scenema Concept International Inc. (represented in the advertising contract by its executive vice president, Maylyn Enriquez).

These ads went on air on ABS-CBN twice on April 28, and once per day on May 4, 5, 9, 10 and 11. Valued at P3,366,195.04 each, the ad spots had a total worth of P23,563,365.29.

Nielsen had similar data, with a slight difference with the duration and monetary amount spent for each political ad spot. According to Nielsen, each spot ran for120 seconds and was valuated at P3,297,496.

Ejercito apparently also received donations for his political ads to be placed in GMA 7 and 1134 kHz DWDD AFP Radio, other documents submitted to Comelec showed.

Airtime Mktg Phils, for example, through company president Tessie Celestino-Howard, donated four 210-second political ad spots to Ejercito. The ads were aired during GMA 7’s telecast of the 2013 FAMAS awards last April 28. Airtime Mktg Phils was the producer of the awards night.

The ad contract and the certificate of performance from GMA did not indicate the donation’s value. Nielsen, however, said that each spot, which it said ran for 120 seconds, was worth P2,635,200, or a total of P10,540, 800.

Rosemarie Lamagna, producer and host of block timer Gabay ng Bayan at 1134 kHz DWDD AFP Radio, also donated a 180-second spot for an interview and 18- to 24- second spots to Ejercito, according to papers submitted by the radio station. The spots aired from April 11 to 30, 2013. Unfortunately, the radio station did not indicate in its documents how much the donated spots were worth.

Had print ads, too

In the meantime, Nielsen noted that Ejercito had political ads in nine different broadsheets and tabloids two days before election day. On May 11, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, Abante, Abante Tonite, Bulgar, People’s Journal, People’s Journal Tonite, and Pilipino Star Ngayon published political ads endorsing Ejercito in their newspapers. These ads, placed by Scenema Concept International, had a total value of P529,126.

If Nielsen’s accounting of Ejercito’s ad spends were to be considered, the governor’s campaign ad totals would reach P34,152,398, swelling total campaign expenditures to P37,120,998.

Interestingly, both donations and all of his ad expenses were not detailed in Ejercito’s SOCE, which was filed last June 13.

According to Article 12, Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines, campaign overspending is punishable by “imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation. In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage.”

In addition, under-declaration or non-declaration of campaign expenses and donations in a candidate’s SOCE may have him or her liable for perjury. Under the law, those found guilty of perjury may be imprisoned for at least four months, with the maximum punishment being put behind bars for one year, one month, and 10 days.

Commissioner Lim indicated though that since perjury is not an election offense, Comelec would not have jurisdiction on this matter. But he said that the body can opt to endorse such a case to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Mrs. ER’s case

In any case, ER Ejercito may not be the only one in his immediate family in trouble with Comelec. Documents submitted to the Commission indicate that his wife, Girlie Maita Ejercito, may have also overspent in her own campaign for a second term as Pagsanjan mayor.

With the total voting population of Pagsanjan at 22,584, the campaign spending limit for mayoralty candidates there would have been P67,752 each.

Girlie Ejercito’s SOCE indicates that she spent a total of P80,160.31 during her campaign, thus exceeding her campaign spending cap by P12,408.31.

She is again Pagsanjan mayor, a post held by her husband from 2001 to 2010.

Both ER and Girlie Ejercito have yet to reply to PCIJ’s queries regarding their campaign expenses. The governor, however, sent a letter dated Aug. 23, 2013 that said in part, “(Much) as I would like to promptly provide enlightenment on the matter, I am currently attending to the more pressing concerns of our Province as we experienced massive flooding during the onslaught of the monsoon rains.”

He added that “this perilous situation lasts for weeks thus, my sincerest apology if the PCIJ has to wait for my answers on the said issue.” — PCIJ, September 2013