Top bets zip it, won’t talk

ONLY THREE candidates responded by email and text message to letters that PCIJ sent to 23 of those running for president, vice president, and senator last week to inquire about who funded their composite P6.7 billion pre-campaign political ad expenses. Several others merely acknowledged receipt of the letters while the rest or 16 of those queried did not in any mode or manner.

PCIJ moved mail to 23 of the candidates for the top national positions to ask about the political ads they had aired or published from March 2015 to January 2016, or before the 90-day official campaign period started on Feb. 9, 2016.  PCIJ selected them for querying because each of them had racked up considerable pre-campaign political ad expenses – some reaching hundreds of millions of pesos and even billions of pesos — based on Nielsen Media monitoring reports. All 23 were given up to five days to respond.

The most secretive of the lot were the candidates of the Liberal Party who say they are sworn to continue the “Daang Matuwid” legacy of President Benigno S. Aquino III.  The LP bets, except for Senate President Franklin Drilon, did not send a reply at all.

Not one of the three candidates who belong to the Billon-Peso Club of ad spenders — presidentiables Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay, Grace Poe, and Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II — talked about their secret donors’ identities.

Mum’s the word, too, for four candidates for vice president — Alan Pete Cayetano, Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan II, Ferdinand  ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., and Maria Leonor ‘Leni’ Robredo — who had spent handsomely on the ads.

Twelve candidates for senator who are also big ad spenders, including seven from LP, would not talk either.

The PCIJ letters raised the same questions but focused these on the specific amounts, by the rate card of media agencies, that the candidates had separately incurred:

  • The official 90-day campaign period started only on Feb. 9, 2016 but your political ads had started airing months earlier. Why? What was your purpose in running a massive volume of pre-campaign ads?
  • Did you spend your own money to pay for these ads? If yes, how much of your own funds did you use?
  • Did you receive donations from friends, allies, and supporters to pay for these ads? If yes, how much in donations did you receive to pay for these ads? Can you please identify these donors?
  • The National Internal Revenue Code imposes a 30-percent tax on donations from “strangers,” in this instance, yourselves and your donors. Do you know if your donors had remitted to the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) the commensurate taxes on their donations to your campaign?
  • The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act (Republic Act No. 3019) prohibits elective and appointive public officials from “accepting directly or indirectly a gift from a person other than a member of the public officer’s immediate family, in behalf of himself or of any member of his family or relative within the fourth civil degree, either by consanguinity or affinity, even on the occasion of a family celebration or national festivity like Christmas, if the value of the gift is under the circumstances manifestly excessive.”  Please comment.

Navotas Rep. Tobias ‘Toby’ Tiangco responded on behalf of Vice President Binay, although the PCIJ letter was first coursed through the latter’s daughter, Makati 2nd District Rep. Abigail Binay.

The verbatim reply from Tiangco, president of the United Nationalist Alliance, reads: “Hi, Malou. I cannot confirm or deny the figures because the records are not with me. With over P53 Million voters, TV advertisement is the fastest way for a candidate to get his/her message across.  You can be rest assured that this is done in a manner that is in accordance with all existing laws. BR, Toby.”

Interestingly, Senate President Franklin Drilon, who is running for re-election, was the first to respond, although he did not actually receive a letter from PCIJ. It is possible that because he is the chairman of the Liberal Party, Drilon might have seen the letter that PCIJ sent to the LP national headquarters’ email. (The LP headquarters acknowledged receipt of PCIJ’s letter.)

Through both email and text, Drilon wrote: “Dear Malou, For the record, I did not have any political ad before the campaign period started on Feb 9. In fact, I aired my ads on radio and television only on Mar 1, 2016. Warm regards. Sen Frank Drilon”

PCIJ had reported that, according to Nielsen Media’s monitoring reports, Drilon had incurred P39,000 worth of ads, by the rate card of media agencies.

In reply to Drilon, PCIJ wrote:

“Thank you for your quick response. However, the detailed entries of Nielsen Media’s monitoring reports showed that you may have actually incurred pre-campaign ad expenses, but at an amount so small compared to your fellow Liberal Party candidates for senator, president, and vice president.

“By Nielsen Media’s reports, you incurred a total of P39,000 in pre-campaign ads for six 30-second radio spots worth P6,500 each.

“These aired in December 2015 with you as ‘product’ or ‘advertiser,’ under the ‘Social Concerns’ subcategory of ad placements by ‘GOVERNMENT AGENCIES & PUBLIC UTILITIES.’


“Hope this helps. Thanks.”

For a second time, Drilon responded. His verbatim reply:  “Hi Malou, I am totally surprised by Neilsen’s attribution of political ads to me. Six 30-seconders in Dec 2015? For P39,000? Does that make sense as a pre-campaign political ad? No, and I deny having made that placement. There must be a mistake. I have NOT produced, or recorded, or aired, a 30 seconder in December 2015. Since it is on radio, I wonder if Neilsen can send me the alleged recorded pre campaign political ad. I reiterate that I started airing my political ads on March 1, as the cost is prohibitive. Thanks. Frank.”

PCIJ stands by its story. Nielsen Media monitored the radio ad that Drilon aired in December 2015 on Bombo Radio-Iloilo. Here is the audio clip of Drilon’s ad.

Meantime, Sen. Antonio Trillanes, who is running for vice president, and Bayan Muna Party-List Rep. Neri Colmenares, who is running for senator, seem to have gotten rather confused about their election and tax laws, based on their separate replies to PCIJ.

PCIJ had focused its queries on the candidates’ pre-campaign ads. The two gave replies founded on election laws applicable to spending during the campaign period.

Trillanes wrote that “before the campaign period kicked off on 9 February 2016, we placed radio advertisements in select local radio stations nationwide as part of our efforts to raise consciousness among the Filipinos about my advocacies. It’s definitely not a massive volume compared to the other candidates.”

Yet while he said, “I did not pay for these ads,” Trillanes did not identify who donated the money to pay for them. Instead, he said that “donations, if any, would be duly reported to COMELEC (Commission on Elections) as required by law.”

On the matter of the National Internal Revenue Code’s clause that a 30-percent donor’s tax must be paid from donations of strangers, Trillanes said: “We have paid the withholding tax required by the same Code for the pre-campaign ads.”  He did not, he added, violate any provisions of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Colmenares, a lawyer by profession, responded the longest to the PCIJ’s letter.

On the first question, he wrote:  “First, I need to clarify that I did not spend P22 Million on TV/radio ads as reported by Nielsen. This was probably based on TV/radio rate card for the infomercials aired before the election period. If it is possible I would like to request for a copy of the same as I am also interested when and how many times these supposed ads were aired.

“What was actually spent is way below that because of huge discounts concerned media establishment have given. The amount spent can in no way be considered massive spending if compared to the hundreds of millions of pesos that presidential, vice presidential, and other senatorial candidates have spent for their ads.

“We went on radio and TV to discuss our campaign for P2,000 SSS pension hike, reduction of high power rates and abolition of pork barrel.  When the bill was transmitted to Pres. Benigno Aquino for approval we called on pensioners and the people through radio and TV to press the President to sign the P2,000 SSS pension bill passed by the Congress.

“These infomercials were aired to make the people aware of the issues relevant to my advocacies.”

On the question whether he used his own money or donations to pay for his ads, Colmenares replied: “Most of the funds for these infomercials came from friends and other advocates.  My contribution to the same was very minimal amounting to only a few thousand pesos.”

Wrote Colmenares: “The bulk of the money we paid for the infomercials came from those who want to support the advocacy campaigns such as my relatives, colleagues in Congress, colleagues and supporters from the legal profession, friends, former classmates,  supporters and friends from other professions, and from three fund-raising events we have held.”

He continued: “I will definitely and officially report the donors required by our Election laws to be reported and during the period set by the Comelec. The election laws provide for the proper time within which to disclose to the government and to make available to the public these information, and that is after election date. The wisdom behind the law, and I strongly agree with this, is to protect the supporters and donors of the candidate from any political backlash or harassment pending the determination of the winner. Either they will be harassed for supporting me or other candidates will harass them for donations. Rest assured that I will report all that is required by law to be reported during the period set by the Comelec and that any amount we receive for electoral campaign purposes will be used strictly for election purposes and not for my personal account.”

BIR Commissioner Kim Jacinto-Henares in an interview told PCIJ that the 30 percent donor’s tax applies to the donations that candidates received before the official campaign period, but Colmenares wrote that “donations for the purposes of elections are tax-exempt. (See Section 13, RA 7166; Section 99 C of NIRC). There is no need to pay tax. In any case, we will eventually report all donations to the Comelec and pay whatever fees and taxes that may be required by law.”

The chief of staff of LP candidate for senator Risa Hontiveros also emailed PCIJ in response to its queries. The reply, however, seemed to have been aborted midway, reading: “Dear Ms. Mangahas, This is Elvira Escoto, ES of Ms. Risa Hontiveros. We would like to acknowledge receipt of your email and at the…. Best, Viray.”

‘Viray’ is the nickname of Escoto.  PCIJ has asked Escoto if she could please complete her response letter, but she has yet to do so as of this writing.

Another LP senatorial bet, Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan, acknowledged receipt of PCIJ’s queries. The House administration did the same on behalf of Leyte 1st District Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Valenzuela City Rep. Sherwin ‘Win’ Gatchalian. Not one of the three sent further replies.

In the case of two more candidates for president — Grace Poe and Rodrigo Duterte– and LP candidate for vice president Maria Leonor Robredo, PCIJ received quick assurances via text and email from their respective chiefs of staff that they would reply to the letters.

Duterte’s camp actually acknowledged receipt of the queries thrice. Duterte’s lawyer told PCIJ: “Good evening, Ma’am Malou. I sent you text msg this afternoon saying we acknowledge receipt of your email. Received niyo po? Salamat po. Team Duterte.”

A second deputy, Edwin Espejo, who works with Duterte’s Media Team, also wrote: “Got it. Forward it to the group that produced and placed them (ads).”

Duterte’s chief of staff Bong Go replied as well: “Good am po. Will have it checked.”

Poe’s senior staff, Judith Sto.Domingo, meanwhile sent this response: “Copy po mam. thanks.”

For Robredo, a staff personnel responded to PCIJ:  “Good morning mam. this is marisa.  i am currently with Cong Leni here in Cebu. She will look into it mam. I will remind her po. thank you.”

Up to now, Duterte, Poe, and Robredo have yet to reply to PCIJ’s queries. In an interview conducted weeks earlier, however, Robredo had told PCIJ that LP leaders had assured her that they would take care of campaign funds. She had told the party’s officials, she said, that she had not wanted to run because she had no money. So when it came to funds, “hindi ko alam ‘yan, sila in charge (I know nothing about that, they’re the ones in charge),” Robredo said.

Apparently, though, most other candidates for the highest positions of leadership in the country are not quite ready to reveal the secrets of who bankrolled their mammoth pre-campaign political ads that, Nielsen Media’s monitoring reports showed had reached P6.7 billion from March 2015 to Jan. 31, 2016.

Those who received letters but did not respond to the queries are:

From the Liberal Party:

  • Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II
  • Maria Leonor ‘Leni’ Robredo
  • Leila de Lima
  • Teofisto ‘TG’ Guingona III
  • Panfilo ‘Ping’ Lacson
  • Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan
  • Jericho Petilla
  • Ralph Recto
  • Joel Villanueva

From the other political parties:

  • Grace Poe
  • Rodrigo Duterte
  • Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.
  • Alan Peter Cayetano
  • Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan
  • Sherwin ‘Win’ Gatchalian
  • Francisco ‘Isko Moreno’ Domogoso
  • Sergio ‘Serge’ Osmena III
  • Ferdinand Martin Romualdez
  • Francis Tolentino

So who paid for the billions they had all together spent on pre-campaign ads? To these candidates, the answer to that seems to be something they would not grant voters the right to know. — Malou Mangahas, PCIJ, March 2016

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