IT WAS 1992; Fidel V. Ramos had just been voted as president, and Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada as vice president. Presidential bet Miriam Defensor Santiago was crying foul, saying she had been cheated. She would later file an electoral protest, but the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was apparently more interested in something else: conducting its first ever audit of the campaign contributions and expenses of candidates for president, vice president, and senators for the then recently concluded polls.
The Comelec, then headed by Christian Monsod, seemed serious, and even formed a committee to examine the books of account of candidates, political parties, donors, and media entities. Lawyer Josefina de la Cruz, who became part of that committee, also recalls that the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), Commission on Audit (COA), and the National Bureau of Investigation served as Comelec’s “counterparts” in the initiative.
AS A veteran fund-raiser for presidential candidates tells it, there are fewer awkward moments in the campaign than a meeting between the candidate and a potential donor, especially if they are seeing each other for the first time.
Recalling one such meeting ahead of the recent May 10 polls, the fund-raiser says that what actually lasted a fleeting 15 minutes seemed to take forever. “They talked about everything else except the money,” the moneyman tells the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) on condition of anonymity. “At the end, when there was nothing else to talk about, the donor just said ‘By the way, here’s something for the campaign.’”
THE PHILIPPINE PRESS, widely held to be the freest and most rambunctious in Southeast Asia, has no reason to boast and gloat as journalists across the globe observe World Press Freedom Day today.
Aside from the string of unsolved murders of journalists, spotty compliance and outright mockery of the law on the disclosure of statements of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) by the country’s justices, lawmakers and executive officials continue to hinder the people’s right to know – ironically this year’s theme in commemorating press freedom.
THIS presidential campaign is turning out to be the most expensive yet in Philippine political history, but it is also a story of two extremes – profligacy and penny-pinching on political advertisements by the candidates.
In just the two months since the official campaign period began last February 9, six candidates for president racked up a daily average ad spending total of P10.5 million, or almost P633 million in 60 days. By contrast, the remaining three candidates had a total tri-media ad bill of zero, with data by media monitoring company Nielsen failing to yield a single print or broadcast spot bought by any of them.
These days, the number of Filipino Internet users is pegged at around 24 million and mobile phone users at around 63 million. Not surprisingly, candidates for both national and local posts have taken interest on those figures, and have been busy putting up complex, interactive websites of their own, even as they litter popular online publications, blogs, and social networks with political propaganda. Text-blasting, or the sending of unsolicited SMS messages, appears to be on the rise as well.
IN THE unnervingly expensive race for the Philippine presidency, the candidates who splurge are those less open to discussing their campaign spending, while candidates who spend the least are the most open to talking about their finances.
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) managed to ask most of the presidential candidates about their positions on various issues involving campaign finance: where they get their campaign money, their major donors, and their expenses.
THE MEDIA have always been a major player in Philippine elections, more so now with the pervasiveness of television. But there is a twist in this year’s elections: the increasing influence of the entertainment media and of showbiz celebrities in the campaign. And that, of course, comes with a price tag.
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