by Che de los Reyes
The May 13, 2013 midterm elections could turn out to be different from all elections past. At least, as far as enforcing campaign finance rules is concerned.
Based on recent issuances and pronouncements by the highest officials of the Commission on Elections, campaign finance regulation – a task that COMELEC only gave token observance to in the past – will now be receiving serious attention from the Commission.
On June 22, 2012, the COMELEC issued Resolution No. 9476 or the “Rules and Regulations Governing Campaign Finance and Disclosure in Connection with the 13 May 2013 National and Local Elections and Subsequent Elections Thereafter.” The resolution mandated the creation of a Campaign Finance Unit, whose sole function is to look into the contributions and spending of candidates and political parties and enforce the laws on campaign finance.
And then in October 2012, COMELEC Chairman Sixto S. Brillantes himself announced that the 2013 elections would be the first in which the Commission would be seriously looking into the issue of campaign finance.
But even with the the commitment of its officials and the new Campaign Finance Rules in place, COMELEC is still facing the enormous challenge of educating candidates, political parties, and service providers, as well as election watchdogs and the media on its new campaign finance policy.
And then there is the question of whether the Commission would be able to muster the necessary resources and capability to monitor candidates’ spending and contributions, much less audit them.
It is a task that just might prove too unwieldy for COMELEC to go it alone. Not without the buy-in and assistance of the relevant stakeholders.
This fact is not lost on the officials of the Commission, who had started engaging various campaign finance stakeholders in recent months. Last Dec. 19, 2012 for instance, the COMELEC engaged not only the candidates, political parties, contractors, and service providers — those who are expected to file campaign spending reports — but also other government agencies, election watchdogs, and members of the media.
In the forum and workshop sponsored by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), more than 50 stakeholders focused on identifying the gaps in enforcement of, and compliance with, the Campaign Finance Rules, and how each sector could better assist the Commission in these areas.
The workshop of the ‘Filers,’ which included representatives of major political parties and coalitions such as the Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, and United Nationalist Alliance; party list groups such as AGHAM and Kabataan Party List; the sales and legal departments of ABS-CBN 2 and GMA 7; and media/advertising agencies such as Campaigns & Grey — yielded concrete recommendations on how the COMELEC could still improve on the Campaign Finance Rules.
Meanwhile, the workshop of the ‘Monitors and Rapporteurs’ involved representatives of media organizations such as the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), the Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and Interaksyon; election monitors and election reform advocates such as the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), Consortium on Electoral Reforms/Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms (CER/IPER); academe such as the Association of Schools of Public Administration of the Philippines (ASPAP), citizens’ groups such as the Freedom of Information Youth Initiative, and government agencies such as the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).
Recommendations by the filers covered such areas as political advertising, reporting requirements, transparency and disclosure, and imposition of taxes on donations. The monitors and rapporteurs meanwhile, recommended concrete ways on how the sector could better assist COMELEC in improving enforcement and compliance with the Campaign Finance Rules and how to disseminate these. The sector’s recommendations also covered improving transparency and disclosure of campaign finance information, as well as a number of legislative reforms that would directly or indirectly impact on campaign finance.
The points identified however, were not only directed at COMELEC. The workshop participants also set goals and identified initiatives that they committed to pursue as a sector in order to improve compliance with Campaign Finance Regulations.
The filers, for instance, said they will be pursuing initiatives to better appreciate the letter and intent of campaign finance laws on accounting of campaign funds. These include organizing briefing sessions for media agencies and networks on campaign finance rules and implementation. The media executives meanwhile, volunteered to brief the COMELEC on the process or industry practice of placing ads.
Another initiative that the sector committed to do is to conduct consultations within the advertising industry because of different setups among advertising agencies (i.e., creative agency only; media agency only; unbundled full service agency with both creative and media). According to the sector, it is also important to identify which among the above agencies would be responsible for filing the necessary reports to COMELEC.
Meanwhile, the election monitors and rapporteurs committed to create a group specifically tasked to monitor compliance with the Campaign Finance Rules and draft a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for monitors to initiate prosecution of violators. The sector also said it would involve the public more in discussions about campaign finance.