Top 2 bets piggyback ads
on ‘poor’ party-list groups

THE HORRIBLY costly air war for the presidency has in recent weeks ceased being the exclusive domain of moneyed politicians and political parties. The new players and big buyers of political advertisements on television are seven apparently cash-rich party-list groups accredited by the Commission on Elections as supposed representatives of the “marginalized” and presumably poor sectors of Philippine society.

Three of the seven groups are neophytes in the electoral arena. How they managed to raise funds to purchase TV ads is just the first mystery.

A second matter is the bigger mystery: Why do their ads invariably say nothing about their respective advocacies but focus only on extolling the image, message, and virtues of the top two candidates for president – the Liberal Party’s Benigno C. Aquino III and the Nacionalista Party’s Manuel B. Villar Jr.?

By all indications, this curious arrangement between these party-list groups and candidates is also a “creative” way of circumventing the airtime and spending limits prescribed in the Fair Election Practices Act or Republic Act No. 9006.

Who is using who, that is not clear for now, however.  These “marginalized” party-list groups have apparently fallen into the trap of big-money politics where, in order to win, a party or candidate must command name recall by burning loads of cash on air.  Meanwhile, the top two candidates who have maxed out their airtime limits in the top networks have been afforded a chance to ride piggyback on the unused airtime limits of these party-list groups.

(Seven other party-list groups have aired TV ads that feature their respective advocacies and make no reference to presidential candidates.)

Party List Groups’ Ad Values and Indicative Ad Spending on TV
(February 9 to April 17, 2010)

Party List Group Total Ad Values for TV1
(in Philippine pesos)
Total Indicative Ad Cost for TV2
(in Philippine pesos)
AAPS 9,757,894 5,366,842
Akap Bata 41,035,879 24,340,972
AKB 6,074,553 3,341,004
Akbayan 33,253,290 18,289,310
AGHAM 2,366,362 1,301,499
Anak Mindanaw 570,240 313,632
Buhay 1,712,700 941,985
CIBAC 250,906 137,998

1 – Ad values were based on Nielsen Media’s data, which are computed based on TV networks’ published rate cards.

2 – A 30-percent discount was applied to TV ad values per RA 9006. An additional 15-percent discount was applied for TV ads aired starting March 1, 2010 to approximate the average increase in TV ad rates.

Unwitting hosts?

As of two days ago, April 27, four party list groups have aired TV ads that invariably extol  candidate Villar. These are the AAPS or Association of Administrators, Professionals, and Seniors (formerly known as the Association of Retired Teachers or ART according to the group’s website), AGHAM or Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Mamamayan, Inc., Butil, and earlier, Akap Bata.

Three other party-list groups have aired ads that invariably project candidate Aquino  (Akbayan) or his two prominent endorsers, independent Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero (An Waray)  and re-electionist governor of Batangas, actress Vilma Santos-Recto (AGAP or Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines).

Akap Bata, was the first to air ads that mimicked Villar’s “Dagat ng Basura” ads. After a PCIJ report exposed the curious arrangement, on March 11 Akap Bata cancelled the balance of its ads – already paid for — and ordered the top networks to stop airing the same.

A group that claims to represent marginalized children, Akap Bata started hitting the airwaves with ads that are a virtual rehash of Villar’s Dagat” ads, which had been airing since December 2009.

Contracts cancelled

Reports submitted by ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation to Comelec showed that as of March 9, Akap Bata had signed three separate advertising contracts with the network for 107 spots of 30-second ads that should have run from March 5 to 27 on Channel 2. Akap Bata paid up-front a total of P23,941,915.60 for the three contracts.

Following media inquiries into the group’s possible ties with Villar, the ads of Akap Bata suddenly stopped airing after March 11. In a memorandum dated March 11 to GMA 7 Network – where Akap Bata’s ads had also been airing – Akap Bata’s media agency ordered the network to “hold all spots of Akap Bata Party List” effective immediately.

Its interrupted foray into TV ads, notwithstanding, Akap Bata had by then aired quite a volume of ads on ABS-CBN 2, GMA 7, QTV 11, and TV5 from February 26 to March 11. Altogether, the group’s ad buys had run a total indicative cost of P24.3 million, according to Nielsen Media.

(The PCIJ computes the indicative ad cost by applying a 30-percent discount on the published rate cards of TV networks — as required by the Fair Election Practices Act — and an additional 15-percent discount to approximate the average increase in TV advertising rates starting March 1, 2010).

Asked to explain the Akap Bata fiasco in early March, first nominee Dr. Joy Alcantara told reporters that it was a simple case of a party-list group riding piggy-back on the popularity of a presidential candidate. Election lawyers, however, saw the arrangement in reverse – the candidate riding piggyback on the airtime credits of the party-list group.

Lost lesson

But the lesson of Akap Bata seems totally lost on other party-list groups that are now also serving as the hosts, wittingly or unwittingly, of ads extolling the top two candidates for president.

As of April 27, the names of six other party list groups have been appearing in the end tags of political advertisements featuring Villar and Aquino.

Following Akap Bata’s lead is the party-list group AAPS or the Association of Administrators, Professionals, and Seniors (formerly known as the Association of Retired Teachers or ART according to the group’s website). AAPS’s ads, if not for the last frame showing the group’s name, seem to have come straight out of Villar’s production house.

The group’s declared advocacy is the promotion of the welfare of retired educators and professionals but its ads feature Villar talking about poverty and comparing the Philippines with its more developed neighbors Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore. The group’s name appears only on the last frame with this tagline: “Manny Villar at AAPS Party List, Karanasan, Kakayahan, Kontra Kahirapan.

P58-M AAPS ads

Based on reports ABS-CBN 2 submitted to the Comelec, AAPS had already secured ad spots with the network giant until May 8, 2010, the end of the official campaign period. It signed an advertising contract with the network on April 14, 2010 for 248 spots of 30-second ads worth P58.4 million in cash.

TV networks impose a “pay before broadcast” rule on political ad buyers.

Dr. Edna B. Azurin, AAPS’s first nominee, signed the contract that was booked by ad agency Starcom Philippines, the same agency that represents and books ads for Villar and the Nacionalista Party in ABS-CBN, GMA7, TV5, QTV 11, and other TV blocktime programs and cable networks.

Nielsen data show that in just two days — on April 16 and 17 — AAPS had splurged an indicative amount of P5.4 million on ads at ABS-CBN 2 and GMA 7 alone.

Another party list group that dwells on Villar’s candidacy is AGHAM or the Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya Para sa Mamamayan, Inc. It has aired different versions of ads extolling Villar’s record in providing housing and livelihood, job creation, and education.

Villar himself is the poster-boy in all the ads. And in the pattern of the Akap Bata and AAPS ads, AGHAM’s ads make only fleeting mention of the group’s name in the last frame with this tagline: “Manny Villar at AGHAM Party List, Karanasan, Kakayahan, Kontra Kahirapan.” Interestingly, two versions of AGHAM’s ads feature the same female and male child talents who performed in Villar’s “Dagat ng Basura” ads.

This is AGHAM’s second bid for a congressional seat. It first ran but lost in 2007. Angelo B. Palmones, former station manager of ABS CBN 2’s DZMM radio, heads AGHAM. On April 17, the day AGHAM’s ads first aired, the group spent P1.3 million.

The latest to join the attack of ads in favor of candidate Villar is veteran party-list group Butil, which is credited as sponsor of the ads featuring Villar’s mother, Curita “Nanay Curing” Bamba Villar. The two-part ad first came out on April 26, the same day Villar’s mother and siblings appeared in a press conference to insist that Villar grew up in abject poverty. The ad shows “Nanay Curing” talking about the illness and death of son Danny, and lamenting the criticisms hurled against son Manny.

Butil Party List first ran in 1998 and has since been elected to seats in Congress. The group gets token mention in its own “Nanay Curing” ads that bear the tagline, “Manny Villar at Butil Party List, Galing sa mahirap, tumutulong sa mahihirap.

P18-M Akbayan ads

Not to be outdone, the Liberal Party candidate, Noynoy Aquino, has also marshaled party-list groups in his air war for the presidency.

One such group is Akbayan, whose representative Ana Theresia ‘Risa’ Hontiveros is a senatorial candidate of the LP. Akbayan’s ads, which began airing last April 9, make no mention of the group’s advocacies or achievements in its 12-year stint in Congress. Instead, the ads extol the qualities of Aquino as a candidate, and string up footage of Aquino being cheered on by campaign rally crowds.

Akbayan gets no mention in its own ads until the last frame’s tagline, “Noynoy Aquino and Akbayan Partylist: Ipapanalo ang Mamamayan.

All the ads were “paid for” and “paid by” Akbayan Party List as well. Per Nielsen’s data, in just one week when its ads aired, Akbayan had already spent P18.3 million.

Another party-list group airing ads that seem to benefit Aquino is AGAP or the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines, which aims to “protect and promote the welfare of farmers” according to the group’s Multiply account. Its official website was hacked recently.

The ads that are “paid for” and “paid by” AGAP feature actress Vilma Santos-Recto, re-electionist governor of Batangas and wife of LP candidate for senator, Ralph Recto.

Santos-Recto is shown endorsing Aquino for the entire duration of the AGAP ads. Again, it is only in the last frame’s tagline where the group gets mention: “AGAP (Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Phil.) No. 47 sa balota.”

AGAP’s headquarters is located in Lipa City, Batangas. It is currently represented in the 14th Congress by Nicanor M. Briones and Cesar A. Cobrador, who remain the group’s first and second nominees for the May 2010 elections.

A third party-list group whose ads redound to Aquino’s benefit is An Waray, whose website proclaims it to be “the representative of the poor and marginalized in Congress.”

The group’s ads feature Senator Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero endorsing Aquino as his presidential candidate. Like Akbayan and AGAP though, An Waray is almost a non-entity in its own ads until the last frame kicks in:  “83 An Waray Party List.”

Nielsen data are available only up to April 17 and thus do not yet cover the ad values of Butil, AGAP, and An Waray as of this writing.

Apart from these seven party-list groups, seven others have aired television ads focusing on their respective advocacies, and without any references to the presidential candidates. This second group of seven party-list groups airing their respective unique ads are Agbiag, AKB (Ako Bicol Political Party), AMS (Alyansa ng Media at Showbiz), Anak Mindanaw, Buhay, CIBAC (Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption), and PBA (Pwersa ng Bayaning Atleta). – PCIJ, April 2010