IT’S A disconcerting paradox to say the least: In their avowed desire to serve in the highest office of the land, the top two candidates for president – Senator Manuel B. Villar Jr. of the Nacionalista Party and Senator Benigno S. Aquino III of the Liberal Party – are now being packaged and sold in the same way profit-driven firms market shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, diaper, infant formula, noodles, drugs for colds and diarrhea, mobile phone cards, beer, and whiskey.
As a result, they now rank among the top 20 advertisers and product brands in the first three months of 2010.
Since the campaign period began last February 9, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been collecting and collating documents on political ads from media outfits to help it monitor the candidates’ compliance with campaign-expenditure limits.
But the “Media Spend Highlights, First Quarter 2010” report of media monitoring agency Nielsen Media affirms that Villar and Aquino have spent too much on ads that they have earned the dubious distinction of being marketed as “branded products.”
Villar, the lone billionaire candidate for president and the second-placer in public opinion polls, retakes the lead for ad spending in the Nielsen report. He ranked No. 7 as a brand, and an even higher No. 6 as a product “advertiser.”
By the published rate cards of television, radio and print media agencies, Villar racked up a 127-percent increase with P1.23 billion in total ad placements in the first three months of the year, from P543 million in the last quarter of 2009.
Nielsen had reported that in the first quarter of 2009, or a full year ahead of election day, Villar accounted for P83 million in ad placements. His 2010 first-quarter ad volume represents a tremendous year-on-year growth of 6,575 percent.
It was in the last quarter of 2009 yet when Villar achieved a first for a Philippine political candidate – landing No. 14 on the list of the Top 20 Advertisers in the country, until then the exclusive enclave of big corporate advertisers.
In contrast, the Nielsen report ranked Aquino, the public opinion-polls topnotcher, a poor second to Villar in terms of ad spending. In the list of top 20 advertisers in the first quarter of 2010, Aquino placed No. 11 with P526 million in total placements, by published rate cards, of ads pitching him as a product.
Thus, despite their separate protestations that they have not yet breached the lawful airtime limits (120 minutes per television station, and 180 minutes per radio station), the latest Nielsen report only offers more data to challenge the two candidates’ assertions.
According to Eric Barrera, Nielsen director for client service, the high ranking of candidates Villar and Aquino among the country’s top advertisers is not unusual at all during an election campaign period. “It’s expected during the election season because part of the reason is the other advertisers are spending less” in the first and last quarters of the year, he says.
In 2007, top ad-spenders from the administration party Lakas-CMD, including failed senatorial aspirant Prospero Pichay Jr., also made it to the list.
Nielsen counted the ads for the candidates as it typically does for all product brands, regardless of which parties paid for the ads.
In contrast, The Fair Election Practices Act and related campaign finance laws prescribe that all political ads must specify which candidate and political party or donor the ads were “paid for” and “paid by.” These provisions are the references for the Comelec to discern compliance by candidates and political parties with airtime and campaign spending limits.
Under the law, candidates for president, vice president and senator may purchase up to 120 minutes of airtime per TV station, and 180 minutes per radio station. As well, each of them may spend up to P10 per voter, or up to P500 million (for about 50 million registered voters), and political parties, up to P250 million more or P5 per voter, for all or some of their candidates.
Because Nielsen’s data do not reflect the actual costs that Villar and Aquino had spent on their horrendous cache of political ads, the PCIJ turned to documents that the TV networks have submitted to the Comelec to establish this.
Contracts tell all
The PCIJ’s analysis of the complete set of advertising contracts that ABS-CBN Channel 2 had signed and executed for Villar and Aquino from February 10 to March 31, 2010 – the first 49 days of the 90-day official campaign period for national candidates – revealed even more interesting data.
The documents from ABS-CBN showed that Villar and his Nacionalista Party (NP) had altogether spent a total of P223,533,407, covering 98 various advertising contracts for the television network and its relay stations across the Philippines.
In addition, Villar and the NP also signed 46 various advertising contracts for ABS-CBN sister-radio network DZMM and its affiliate radio stations nationwide.
Yet, even as some of the contracts specified the airing of the Villar ads in specific cities or provinces, only one person signed for all the TV ad contracts for ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.: Socorro V. Vidanes, who is listed as “Head, Channel 2.”
Vidanes, who appears in the network’s papers at the Securities and Exchange Commission as Channel 2’s managing director for Mega Manila, also signed as ABS-CBN representative in most of the advertising contracts for the radio ads.
In some others, she signed for or with August Benitez, listed in the contracts as “VP, CDG Sales,” and/or Rossana Trinidad, listed as the “SVP CDG Sales/Head, Strategic Planning Channel 2 Sales.” In ABS-CBN lingo, CDG stands for Customer development Group.
For Villar and/or the NP, the documents show that three persons — all close personal associates of Villar — alternately signed as paying client: Villar’s brother Virgilio, NP Treasurer Juan Pablo Bondoc (former congressman from Pampanga), and Jerry Navarette, NP executive vice president.
Navarette, Villar’s trusted employee of over 25 years, is also the current board chairman and president of the Villar-owned Polar Property Holdings Corp.
In October 2009, Polar signed a P641-million property-swap agreement covering its shares in the Villar-owned Polar Mines Realty Venture with Villar’s publicly listed real-estate conglomerate, Vista Land and Lifescapes, Inc.
It’s NP, it’s Manny
For the NP’s political ads on ABS-CBN, either Bondoc or Navarette signed, alternately listing the NP and Villar as the ads beneficiary “candidate.” For most political ads listing Villar as “candidate,” his brother Virgilio B. Villar appears as signatory to the contract.
Yet in the view of election lawyer Luie Tito F. Guia of Libertas or the Lawyers’ League for Liberty, all these ads would have to be credited just the same to Villar and Villar alone. This derives, Guia says, from the notice of donation of ads to Villar that Navarette signed last February 10, and which on the same day brothers Manuel and Virgilio Villar accepted.
“That means that all the NP ads were ads paid for Villar,” Guia says.
The NP donation of ads was made in a letter signed by Navarette and which the Villar camp submitted to all the TV networks. It reads: “Please be advised that the NACIONALISTA PARTY is availing of its allowable airtime under RA 9006 to promote the candidacy of MANUEL B VILLAR, JR. as follows: 1. Television placements for the candidate: 120 minutes; 2. Radio placements for the candidate: 180 minutes.”
The letter also authorized Starcom Mediavest Group “to place said advertisements.” Starcom’s Olive Crisostomo signed for the “media specialist” or ad placement agency of Villar in all the ABS-CBN advertising contracts.
(The contracts with ABS-CBN’s sister-radio stations showed that the ads were booked by the PHD Media Network 2006, Inc. but invariably showed only the signature of someone who did not spell out his/her name in the contracts.)
With the NP donation of ads signed, on the same day, February 10, Villar executed and notarized a “SPECIAL POWER OF ATTORNEY” designating his brother Virgilio as his “true and lawful attorney-in-fact,” and authorizing the latter to “sign, execute and deliver all contracts, agreements and/or documents related to all political advertisements and placements in television, radio and print for the entire duration of the 2010 election period, within limits allowed by law.”
In turn, also on February 10, Virgilio Villar executed a letter accepting the donation of all the NP ads to his brother Manuel.
TABLE 1. Advertising Expenditure of Candidates for President
Tri-Media (TV/Radio/Print) BRAND Advertising Expenditure
Social Concerns + Political Ads, in Million Pesos
Based on Published Rate Cards, Source: Nielsen Media
|Rank||Brand||Q4 2009||Q1 2010||% change|
TABLE 2. Total TV Ad Minutes, with ‘Paid For’ and ‘Paid By’ Data
Total TV Ad Minutes ABS-CBN & GMA
February 9 to March 31, 2010
Source: Nielsen Media
|ABS-CBN 2||GMA 7|
|By Brand Level||‘Paid For’ Level||By Brand Level||‘Paid For’ Level|
From the pile of advertising contracts that Virgilio Villar, Bondoc, and Navarette signed alternately with ABS-CBN’s Vidanes, some unusual patterns emerge, notably:
- At least 14 contracts were cancelled and superseded, but often on the same day, for two reasons: the first contracts were signed by either Navarette or Bondoc and the replacement contracts signed by Virgilio Villar; the list of cities or provinces where the ads would air was revised.
- At least 30 advertising contracts signed by ABS-CBN’s Vidanes and Virgilio Villar, and another eight contracts signed by Vidanes and Navarette, were all dated or executed on February 10, Day 2 of the official campaign period. The total cost of these contracts that were paid supposedly in cash on a “pay before broadcast” arrangement is a staggering P48.631 million ad spending in a day.
- Just a few contracts already indicate that the Villar camp has exceeded its airtime limit for DZMM radio station. For instance, three contracts that Virgilio signed for his brother with DZMM-AM station all on February 10 were for 156 minutes, 59 minutes, and nine minutes, respectively, of ad spots – or a total of 224 airtime minutes for DZMM alone. The three ad contracts were each listed to be worth P4,427,779 or P13.28 million in all.
Paid for, by Aquino
For candidate Aquino, the PCIJ’s analysis of advertising contracts from ABS-CBN Channel 2 showed that the LP stalwart billed to his credit (paid-for clause) most of the ads on ABS-CBN that also carried his name in the paid-by clause.
Altogether from February 7, the earliest date of the contracts with Aquino that ABS-CBN submitted to the Comelec, the LP senator had a total of P127.18 million of actual ad buys in ABS-CBN, DZMM-AM and its affiliate DWRR-FM station, as well as in the network’s cable TV stations CinemaOne, MYX, and the ABS-CBN News Channel or ANC.
Of his P127-million actual ad spending during the first half of the campaign, Aquino, in fact, purchased P10.49 million worth of commercials in ABS-CBN for 46 spots of 30-second ads through a contract dated February 17.
Aquino’s Liberal Party, through chairman Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II, donated only 60 minutes of the party’s TV airtime limit, and 90 minutes of the party’s radio airtime limit, to Aquino in letters of donation dated March 8, 2010.
While Aquino did not make it to Nielsen’s Top 10 ad placers during the first quarter of this year, he leads the next 10 top advertisers, with P526 million in ad placements.
By itself, this was a phenomenal surge in ad spending by the LP standard bearer, who registered zero ad placements in the first quarter of 2009, and then took out P143-million worth of ad placements in the last quarter of 2009, for a 269 percent increase, quarter on quarter.
Still, he proved no match to Villar, whose ad placements in the first three months of 2010 were of such volume that he ranks No. 6, or just behind the Top Five advertisers that are all multinational companies selling consumer goods, according to Nielsen’s report.
In big league
These five big-league advertisers are Unilever Philippines, Inc. (P5.878 billion “adspend” in the first quarter), Procter & Gamble Philippines, Inc. (P4.166 billion), United Laboratories, Inc. (3.07 billion), Colgate-Palmolive Philippines, Inc. (P2.68 billion), and Nestle Philippines, Inc. (P2.66 billion).
With his P1.23- billion ad placements, though, Villar has even bested other similarly big ad spenders. Ranked No. 7 and below – or behind Villar – in the first quarter 2010 report of Nielsen – were Jollibee Foods Corp. (P759 million), Universal Robina Corp. (P738 million), Monde Nissin Corp. (698 million), and Globe Telecom, Inc. (561 million).
Tailing Villar’s closest rival Aquino and ranked No. 12 to 20 in the Nielsen report were Johnson & Johnson Phils., Inc. (P505 million), Wyeth Philippines, Inc., (P496 million), Smart Communications, Inc. (P487 million), Kraft Foods (Philippines), Inc. (P467 million), The Coca-Cola Export Company (P462 million), Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company (P445 million), Tanduay Distillers, Inc. (P440 million), Asia Brewery, Inc. (P414 million), and Mead Johnson Philippines, Inc. (P393 million). – PCIJ, April 2010