THE COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS will ask the Interior Department to oust from public office those candidates who won in the 2013 elections who failed to file their election campaign reports that are required by law.
Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, head of the Comelec’s Campaign Finance Unit, made the announcement during a forum organized by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism on campaign finance in the 2013 elections.
Lim said the Comelec has already drawn up a list of winners in the 2013 elections who had not submitted their Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) to the Comelec. The SOCE is a comprehensive report on the contributions that a candidate has accepted for his election campaign. The SOCE is also supposed to detail the candidate’s spending during the campaign, whether from his own pocket or from donations in cash or in kind. The law requires that the SOCE be filed with the Comelec 30 days after the election.
However, Comelec officials say that many candidates and political parties had not taken the SOCE seriously in past elections, as the Comelec was only seen as an administrator and counter of votes during election day. With the creation of the Campaign Finance Unit in 2012, the Comelec had warned candidates and parties that it was finally enforcing campaign finance rules strictly.
Lim however would not say how many candidates or political parties were in the Comelec’s list of those who failed to submit their SOCEs. He said the list will be submitted to the Department of Interior and Local Governments soon so that the DILG can remove these violators from office.
Failure to comply with the Omnibus Election Code is an election offense punishable with one to six years in prison, with disqualification from holding public office.
“We will submit that list to the DILG to remove the winning candidate that failed to submit their SOCEs,” Lim said.
During the time of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, the DILG and Comelec had signed a memorandum of agreement stating that the DILG will not allow winners in the elections to take their oath of office unless they have filed the requisite election documents.
“Even though we have a memorandum of agreement with the DILG, there are still those who manage to get through,” Lim said.
As well, Lim said the Comelec was also going to cancel the party registration of political parties and party-list groups that failed to submit their post-election requirements to the Comelec.
“We want these things resolved within six months, such as whose registration will be cancelled and whose will not, whether political party or party-list group,” Lim said.
Lim said the Comelec has also begun reviewing election documents that were supposed to have been submitted by parties and candidates in past elections. This, because repeat offenders who also did not file SOCEs in previous elections may now be disqualified permanently.
Lim added that the Comelec has also begun auditing election documents submitted by candidates, parties, and contributors. Lim said the Comelec is on the lookout for contributors who were actually banned from making donations to the campaign by the Omnibus Election Code.
These include companies involved in public utilities, those needing concessions, permits or franchises, companies that extract or possess natural resources, and companies that have contracts or sub contracts with the government.
We want to prepare a case na airtight. We do not want to file cases na matatalo,” he said.
At the same time Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia noted how loopholes in the country’s campaign finance laws allow contributors to donate as much as they want to a candidate. The danger of this, Guia said, is that a contributor can literally bankroll the entire campaign of a candidate, effectively putting the candidate in his pocket.
“We don’t have a cap for donations, so individuals or corporations can theoretically donate as much as they want,” Guia said. “A single individual can even bankroll the entire campaign kitty of a presidential candidate.”
The PCIJ organized the forum with the help of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) to discuss campaign finance issues, particularly stories published by the PCIJ in recent weeks.
Just this past week, the PCIJ released investigative stories on how personalities with links to companies that are barred from donating have made significant contributions in the May 2013 Senate elections, raising concerns of undue influence and conflicts of interest.