This is a chapter in the book Media Reporting of Elections in Asia published and released by the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) on May 3, 2021.
President Rodrigo Duterte is not one to keep his lips sealed about money. As a presidential candidate then, the former mayor would tease audiences about the state of his finances and donors whose money he supposedly accepted and refused.
But Duterte had been particularly coy about who exactly funded his campaign. When ABS-CBN News Channel anchor Karen Davila pressed him to name his biggest donor during a public debate, Duterte playfully referred to Emilio Aguinaldo.
Campaign spokesperson Peter Laviña was quick to string the narrative as follows: Duterte’s biggest donors are “the smallest people who can only afford an ‘Emilio Aguinaldo’ para sa kampanya ng #TunayNaPagbabago (for the campaign for #RealChange).” Aguinaldo is the well-known first Philippine president whose face is on the five-peso coin.
It was a clever spin, one that aligns so well with the strategy to set Duterte apart from his wealthy and well-connected opponents. It was also a campaign spin left unchallenged.
Duterte would win the May 2016 elections, but there were no ‘Emilio Aguinaldos’ or five-peso donations in his campaign-finance reports. It was the opposite.
Much like his running mates and the presidents before him, only a handful of rich people bankrolled Duterte’s campaign. A Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) report revealed that the millions Duterte raised for his campaign came mainly from a few businessmen with vested interests in mining and government contracts. Some of these contributors or their family members got top government posts and major business concessions. Campaign-wise or otherwise, Duterte was no different from the traditional politicians he wanted people to believe he wasn’t.
Campaign finance is an important, if not the most important aspect, of any electoral exercise. One’s capacity to run for office is largely hinged on their access to resources. Raising and spending of money in elections has implications beyond election day; it has links that may predict or define how a candidate or a political party will govern. Former Election Commissioner Luie Guia, a longtime advocate of campaign-finance reform, sees the value of campaign finance beyond the context of elections — as an anti-corruption and good governance activity more than it is an election activity.
Voters look up their assigned precincts in Las Piñas East National High School. There are more than 304,000 registered voters in Las Piñas City as of 2016. Photo by Karol Ilagan.
Paving the way
The coverage of campaign finance and the wealth of public officials, although far from ideal, has come a long way, from being ignored to becoming a key part of public discourse. While news coverage has included money matters such as vote-buying or who’s who on the rich list, the last decade has seen a gradual shift in the media’s focus on the influence of money in politics and vice-versa.
The shift, albeit gradual, may be traced back to collective efforts done by election watchdogs, freedom of information advocates and media groups to bring campaign finance high on the election agenda. In 2007, a network of civil society organizations formed the Pera at Pulitika (PAP) (Money and Politics) Consortium to conduct activities to review how and why candidates spend huge sums of money to get elected. These included the counting of campaign posters in several case-study areas, estimating how much each poster would cost, and projecting how much candidates spent. With support from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), the network was able to follow the money during the 2010 elections. The group held public events during the campaign, highlighting the huge advertising spending by candidates at the time and tackling various election issues.
For instance, the millions spent by Manuel ‘Manny’ Villar Jr. on his “Dagat ng basura” (Sea of trash) advertisements caught a lot of attention as it aired many times during the 2010 presidential campaign. At P250,000 (USD5,100) to P300,000 (USD6,100) per 30 seconds then, the TV commercial, which aired two to three times in the evenings, was one indicator of how much Villar wanted to become president.
In the aftermath of the 2016 national and local elections, PCIJ reported on the campaign spending and wealth of presidential and senatorial candidates which pointed out that at least 32 candidates spent a total of P346 million from their own resources. Of the 32, the report focused on senatorial candidates Jericho Carlos Petilla and Francis Tolentino — Petilla for having used 71% of his total net worth reported prior to the elections, and Tolentino for spending 60% way above his net worth also reported prior to the elections.
For sure, the bigger question is why invest so much for a post that will not pay as much. In 2019, President Duterte signed Executive Order No. 76 authorizing the implementation of the fourth tranche of compensation adjustment as defined in an order executed by the previous administration. With this, a senator of the Philippines, with a salary grade of 31 according to the Department of Budget and Management, should be receiving a monthly pay of P295,191 at the highest step. For a six year term, this only means around P21.3 million.
Of the 23 senatorial candidates covered by the PCIJ report, at least six have reported spending more than P10 million from their personal funds namely: Neri Colmenares (P10.4 M); Vicente Sotto III (P12.5 M); Ralph Recto (P20.2 M); Emmanuel Pacquiao (P66.4 M); Tolentino (P67.2 M); and Petilla (P86.7 M).
The use of money to win a seat in public office in the last decade was no longer just a topic of discussion among political scientists, columnists or pundits but even among ordinary people.
In the PAP Consortium, PCIJ worked with other members such as the Association of Schools of Public Administration in the Philippines, Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), and the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER). Alongside this consortium effort are citizen-led activities done by the Change Politics Movement, Movement for Good Governance. National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), Youth Vote Philippines, First Time Voters Projects, BlogWatch Philippines, Rock Ed Philippines, Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), the Automated Election System Watch and Kontra Daya 2010 and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting.
Comelec steps up
The work done by civil society complemented by media covering these activities helped push the demand for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to take on concrete steps to institutionalize campaign-finance work. Then a new commissioner, lawyer Christian Robert S. Lim, took the cudgels of leading the Campaign Finance Unit (CFU) by crafting a plan and overseeing how Comelec could perform this role. Prior to the formation of the CFU, the enforcement of campaign-finance regulations was under the Comelec Law Department.
With Lim heading the CFU, Comelec embarked on a massive training of all its field officers for them to better understand their role in the campaign-finance regulation work. Consultations were likewise done with political parties on how campaign-finance rules can be implemented on ground. The CFU likewise consulted with PCIJ on how it did its campaign-finance monitoring.
The CFU would later become the Campaign Finance Office (CFO). With only job-order employees and a few lawyers, the CFO has its work cut out for it. Lim would also later resign as commissioner-in-charge of the CFO after the Commission en banc voted 4-3 in favor of the request of the Liberal Party and its candidate Manuel ‘Mar’ A. Roxas II to extend the deadline for submitting the Statement of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE).
Since Lim’s resignation, the CFO is headed by Atty. Efraim Bag-id who coordinates CFO matters with the Comelec executive director.
To a certain extent, the CFO shares the same resource woes of many government offices. It was nonexistent to begin with; it has no permanent positions, making the hiring and keeping of employees difficult. The need to level the playing field and enhance transparency in the use of money in elections has been recognized in laws dating back to the 1970s, but serious steps to regulate campaign finance were not taken until the last seven years.
SOCE and SALN
PCIJ, as part of the PAP Consortium, covered campaign finance by monitoring political advertisements before, during and after the campaign. PCIJ likewise tracked compliance with campaign-finance reporting requirements and irregularities in donations and expenditures received by the candidates.
At the center of PCIJ’s investigation are two documents: the Statement of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) and the Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN).
Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Elections Law provides that each candidate and political party participating in the polls must file with the Comelec the full, true, and itemized SOCE within 30 days after election day. The law also states that they should not be allowed to assume office until they submit this report.
When reviewing a SOCE, journalists look at totals and breakdowns of a candidate’s and party’s expenses incurred and donations received. The law that prompted the creation of the SOCE has become the backbone for various lines on inquiries, including but not limited to failure to disclose the true identities of donors, overspending, failure to file complete and correct reports, or not filing their reports within deadline.
For instance, campaign expenditure limits are also defined in RA 7166, which states that candidates for president and vice president are allowed to spend only a maximum of P10 per registered voter. Political parties, meanwhile, are allowed to spend a maximum of P5 per registered voter. Local candidates may spend P3 for every voter currently registered in the constituency they filed their certificate of candidacy. A candidate running without a political party or support from any political party meanwhile may be allowed to spend P5 for every such voter.
Spending beyond the expenditure limit set in law and the rules and regulations of the Comelec is considered an election offense and is punishable under Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines. The penalties for overspenders include the loss of one’s right to vote and a jail term of one to six years. Those who were elected into office would also lose their post.
There is also no question that out-of-pocket spending in elections is a natural and legal recourse in fueling one’s campaign activities. In fact, campaign finance rules obligate the candidates to define how much of the campaign was sourced from their own pockets.
But whether a candidate’s liquidity can support such spending or not, is another thing. Whether this is within the candidate’s threshold or not can be initially determined from their reported net worth. It is therefore important to check campaign finance submissions against the candidate’s own wealth declaration or the SALN.
There are three laws that govern the filing of the SALN: RA 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act), the 1987 Constitution, and RA 6713 (Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees).
The requirement to file wealth disclosure records began in 1960 with the passage of RA 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. Officials then were required to submit, apart from their assets and liabilities, amounts and sources of their income, their personal and family expenses, as well as income taxes paid. But these details weren’t made public. They became available for public scrutiny in the 1987 Constitution for the highest officials of the country, and then in RA 6713, for lower-ranking officials as well.
Also known as the SALN Law, RA 6713 imposes three main obligations on public officials and employees: to make a truthful declaration; to submit such declaration; and for the custodian to publicly disclose these records.
As in any kind of investigation, PCIJ is also mindful of the limits of documents especially as these are self-reported, hence research and reporting includes other sources that may also point to how money influences elections such as use of government resources, how party alliances work and political patronage.
Election coverage review
Although substantial improvement has happened in the last four elections, media coverage of the money flow during elections can be better. PCIJ’s own experience as well as interviews with reporters who have covered several national and local elections reflect longstanding challenges.
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s (CMFR) election monitoring reports of the 2016 and 2010 presidential elections show that campaign finance does not get a lot of coverage in mainstream news. Campaign conduct in the last two presidential elections topped the list of themes covered by the news media.
“Dominated by reports from the campaign trail, the daily feed from the field failed to provide helpful information about the candidate,” the CMFR observed of the 2016 election coverage. “Embedded media clearly failed to get more facetime with the candidate, which they could have used to get deeper into issues.”
CMFR’s observation reflects the fact that key information on campaign finance are only made available post-elections or when the SOCEs are submitted. This leaves a big gap in terms of what reporters can track during the campaign period or when it matters the most. Reporters may check other sources such as networks or media monitoring agency Nielsen for advertising records, but these may be limited to give a full picture or a reliable account of a candidate’s spending. Donations are essentially a blackhole during the campaign period unless a candidate is forthcoming about such information.
Going back to the question as to why candidates use so much of their personal funds in order to convince people that they are worthy of the public’s trust, it has become more imperative for the media to report on campaign finance and wealth of public officials not only during the election period. Red flags should be triggers for sustained and deeper monitoring of transactions entered into by public officials either through their own business interests or their families’. In the same manner, scrutiny must be sustained as to the engagements of those who pooled funds for campaign kitties of candidates in public contracts.
Unfortunately, election watchdogs have observed that the interest of the media for election and election-related issues generally wanes or even stops at the time that candidates are proclaimed. In a training on election coverage organized by PCIJ in 2020, lawyer Rona Ann Caritos, executive director at LENTE, shared that the media practice in election coverage was to focus on events and processes including registration, filing of candidacies, campaign sorties, actual voting day, counting of votes, proclamation, and election protests.
But Caritos asserts that the media needs to look into the 2022 National and Local Elections with fresh lens and perspectives considering the many contexts that surround it including the pandemic as well as the first-ever elections in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. She pointed out that the media needs to familiarize itself with the electoral cycle map which divides the election period into three phases - pre-voting period, voting period, and post-voting period. More importantly, Caritos shared that the media should also shed light on other election issues including procurement, campaign finance, and participation of marginalized sectors especially indigenous peoples.
Eric Jude Alvia, NAMFREL secretary general, shares this sentiment that while the media does well in calling attention to important election issues, it has failed to sustain election reporting. Based on NAMFREL’s observations, the media’s attention to election issues ends when reports are published, which signals the time to move on to the next story.
Even more fundamental, Alvia said the media has failed to relate election issues to the people. “It does not relate (election) violations to community or even personal impacts.” Alvia asserts that the question remains, “What’s in it for me? What is its relevance to me?”
But Alvia adds that this attitude is not only observed among the media and such is the case too with civil society organizations. He relates the experience of PAP consortium whose efforts could have been sustained even if the project has ended if only it was able to engage communities effectively.
In the same context, the Comelec too has to step up in involving the citizens. Alvia says, “You cannot do it alone. When you want to do campaign finance enforcement efforts, you have to involve the citizenry.”
Maria Elena Catajan, a reporter with SunStar Baguio who covered the 2004 and 2010 elections, said that access to information and to documents that can aid verification are primary challenges. For instance, checking certain projects that were finished and left unfinished by an administration is difficult to do because the local press couldn’t get documents even at the regional level.
Philippine Star reporter Alexis Romero shares the same dilemma. Romero covered the United Nationalist Alliance in the 2013 midterm elections and the Liberal Party in 2016 national elections. As a reporter covering the president in the 2019 midterm elections, he also covered sorties organized by the PDP-Laban coalition. Most of the stories he wrote are deadline-based stories and profiles of candidates.
While Comelec reporters are knowledgeable about election laws, reporters covering the campaigns usually have a good idea of what is happening on the ground, says Romero. He says it is not unreasonable to assume that there would be more campaign finance stories if reporters covering Comelec and individual candidates work together to analyze the data. But this won’t be easy if access is lacking, he notes. Another question, he says, is whether campaign teams would be willing to provide truthful and timely information about their spending.
Rappler reporter Michael Bueza, who has covered the 2013, 2016 and 2019 elections, has seen Comelec’s efforts to become more transparent and accessible to reporters and to the public. It remains to be seen whether this will be the same come the 2022 elections, with a fresh batch of commissioners, he notes.
One persisting pain point for Bueza is the pre-campaign strategy of many candidates. According to the Supreme Court, TV, radio, and print ads are generally not considered “premature campaigning,” hence tracking the expenses for these ads is difficult.
Bueza also counts the glitches, errors, and logistical roadblocks in the automated election system that emerge every election season as another set of challenges. “There is a need to explain to the public what these are, and whether these would adversely affect election results. The challenge is in converting these technical terms into digestible bits that readers can understand,” he says.
To be sure, the CFO has regularly shared, upon request, campaign finance documents of national candidates. Bueza says this has greatly aided their reporting, especially on identifying significant contributors of winning candidates. The challenge, however, is in the reporting of campaign expenditures of local candidates. Save for a few instances when candidates do overspend, there is minimal focus and exposure on reportage on how much local candidates have spent and received during the polls.
The CFO likewise releases scanned PDF copies of SOCEs; the processing and extracting the data from these files are time-consuming.
Beat reporters, local reporters as well as data or investigative reporters have different reporting needs, which are largely defined by their newsroom’s editorial agenda and how much time they have to complete a report. But the crux of the problem goes beyond individual reporters as the challenges they face are also rooted on the same issues faced by newsrooms in reporting other issues. Parallel to this experience, too, is the story of Comelec, which has been grappling with campaign-finance reforms amid outdated laws and meager resources.
The most challenging part, Romero says, is coming up with enterprise stories or those that go beyond the usual campaign rhetoric and self-promotion. “Reporters are often inundated with talking points and campaign teams make sure that journalists have more than enough material to write about so they won’t have time and energy to dig deeper,” he says.
There’s a pressure to come up with stories about information that are circulating in the social media even if they are not necessarily newsworthy. Sometimes, the domino effect, wherein a news outlet will do a story about something just because a rival reported about it – leads to waste of resources, time, and energy.
Romero suggests that a team devoted solely to in-depth reports will be spared from the tyranny of real-time. They do not need to worry about deadline-based stories and they will have time for data crunching. Newsrooms will also benefit because it will allow them to offer something different to their audiences, not just the usual he said, she said reports.
Catajan says that time, geography and financial constraints are among the issues encountered by the local journalists. She says newsrooms should form teams to focus on in-depth election stories like campaign finance. Beyond these, reporters need to understand better how to spot red flags in campaign finance reports.
Bueza also says that newsrooms can help their staff understand campaign finance better by holding briefings with veteran election reporters and resource persons from election watchdogs. “This way, there is information sharing and healthy discussions on campaign finance monitoring. Stronger tie-ups with election watchdogs can also be of great help,” he says.
Value of SALN in campaign finance
As many election and governance advocates would say, campaign finance is the first step by which the people can tell whether a candidate, once elected into office, would do well in a public post and in handling public funds. A cross-checking of campaign finance submissions with wealth declarations should be able to provide better contexts towards this end.
But reporting on these connected documents is not as easy as it may seem. For one, both are self-reporting mechanisms and, as such, allows the candidates and elected officials to report only those that they want to report - for whatever reason. Although this may not generally be the case, such practice has been proven time and again, what with the case of former President Joseph Estrada, in discrepancies in his wealth declarations back in 2000, and in the case of Emilio Ramon “ER” Ejercito, in discrepancies in his campaign finance submissions in 2013.
Further, the shrinking trend in accessing SALN of public officials had proven to pose hindrances in reporting on the wealth of public officials. The latest of these restrictions is an Ombudsman Memorandum Circular that prevents access to SALNs under its safekeeping unless requested by the filer themselves, authorized by the filer, or if summoned by the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office, Bureau or Unit for purposes of a fact-finding investigation. The Office of the Ombudsman is the repository of SALNs of a significant number of high ranking public officials including those elected to a national office, such as the president and vice president, and in the local government units including governors, vice governors, mayors, and vice mayors.
To be fair, while the Office of the Ombudsman may have the strictest and strangest policy in providing access to wealth documents, it is not the only SALN repository that restricts access of the public to a document that is legislated to be public. The House of Representatives, the Lower House of Philippine Congress, have long rejected requests for SALN coursed through the House Secretary General - the official repository of wealth documents of district and party list representatives. But the House Secretary General would at least provide a summary of the wealth declarations of the members of the Lower House. Requesters seeking details of these declaration may request directly from the filer. In 2018, the Senate followed suit, providing only summaries of wealth declarations of senators veering away from their long practice of making copies of the senators’ SALNs accessible to the public.
Although not concerning elected officials, even the judiciary would not allow a peek into the SALNs of the justices of the Supreme Court. Just last year, the Supreme Court denied requests for access to the SALN of Associate Justice Marvic M.V.F. Leonen filed by the Office of the Solicitor General. While that may seem as a likely move to hinder attempts to file quo warranto petitions against justices, it also sets precedents in preventing access of the public to wealth documents of justices in general. And unfortunately, such has been the experience of PCIJ in its many attempts to secure copies of the wealth documents of the magistrates.
But access to wealth documents is just one side of the equation — the other side being access to campaign finance documents. Relative to other government agencies, the Comelec is more open when it comes to the public’s access to election documents. Since 2019 however, moves to systematize the public’s access to campaign finance submissions have resulted in several difficulties including the charging of fees for every document that you would like to get your hands on. Just recently, PCIJ requested for copies of the political advertisement contracts submission of media outfits. An incomplete set of documents, only because the rest have yet to be prepared, already amounted to almost PhP8,000 or around USD167.
By 2016, the Commission would also begin redacting information in campaign finance documents in the context of the Data Privacy Act of 2012 which posed difficulties in analyzing the documents. For example, redacting the Tax Identification Number or TIN of the campaign donors takes away the opportunity to identify whether donors who may be declared with different first names — using either complete first name or nick name - but with same surname, can be one and the same. More oddly, the first wave of these redactions included the amount that donors contributed to the candidates’ campaign funds.
The Commission eventually saw that there was no logic in providing access to public documents when critical information have already been redacted — but only after requesters asserted that this verbatim application of the Data Privacy Act denies information-users the complete contexts of the documents. And that in turn, it is an outright violation of the people’s right to information.
Improving the coverage of campaign finance and the wealth of public officials will take a village, from newsrooms re-assessing its election coverage, candidates and parties being more forthcoming with information, to Congress and Comelec instituting campaign-finance reforms and institutions of accountability taking part.
1. Open and timely access to information
Campaign-finance disclosures are submitted 30 days after election day and depending on when the Comelec CFO is able to compile the records, the documents may not be publicly available until two or three months post-elections. In the future, it may be good to consider the release of SOCEs during the campaign period as opposed to the current timeline. Apart from allowing reporters a peek into the spending and donations of candidates and parties somewhat real-time, this practice may also help prevent candidates and parties from “massaging” their reports to comply with rules.
Comelec and election watchdogs should likewise encourage candidates and parties to provide timely updates about their donors and expenditures. Election watchdogs may coordinate with reporters and come up with an “honor roll” for candidates who are transparent about their finances or those who provide regular updates about their funders. Of course, candidates may use this to enhance their images but at least it will force them to be transparent. A candidate who sees his rival in that “honor roll” may be compelled to disclose his funders.
In its monitoring, CMFR notes that, “For the kind of work that requires access to information and documents, there was little protest from the media about the impediment to their journalistic duty and the public’s fundamental right to information. Only a select few reported that the SALN is among the bases for assuring the transparency that is required of public officials.”
CMFR adds, “Media coverage which ignored the Ombudsman’s memo, or reported this without critical context, raises questions about how journalists can do the job of government watchdog, if they are not interested in the SALN. It ignores the public’s increasing demand for government accountability and the obvious contradiction of the memo to the president’s oft-repeated claim that he is against corruption.”
Perhaps it is the pandemic or the support that this administration has as reflected in surveys that discourages any action from the media on these issues. But definitely, it is high time that the media community convenes and consolidates its effort to any and all threats against campaign finance reporting, access to information, and press freedom on the whole.
Comelec could also engage with other institutions of accountability like the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Office of the Ombudsman, or the Commission on Audit in developing a recording system, which could result into a database for anti-corruption work.
Comelec may also consider forming a data collection team that will collate and clean datasets submitted by candidates so reporters can easily review them. Releasing data in soft or electronic copies, instead of printed or scanned documents, should be prioritized.
Alvia adds that the Commission has to embrace open election data principles. He notes that sharing campaign finance or election information could very well be a force multiplier to flag erring candidates and parties.
2. Covering elections as a policy theme, rather than as a beat
Newsrooms and news management must see the value of campaign finance beyond the context of elections. This could come in the form of linking elections with other beats such as business and finance, accountability, corruption or local reporting as well as dedicating resources to ensure independent reporting.
This also applies in countries where documents such as SOCEs and SALNs do not exist or are not publicly available. Lack of access to these records will pose challenges, but understanding that elections follows a cycle and various processes beyond the campaign seasons offers avenues for reporting.
As Caritos and Alvia pointed out, journalists need to sustain election coverage as it has multiple forward and backward links and is hinged upon various other issues such as procurement, business, and participation of marginalized sectors especially indigenous peoples.
Reporters can thus cover candidates and parties and even election administrators and service providers more comprehensively, allowing audiences to better understand key issues. This may also offer opportunities for reporters or news organizations to collaborate and essentially cover the elections better.
3. Strengthening the Campaign Finance Office
Given Comelec’s history, the establishment of the CFO is already a welcome development. But it is high time for the office to tackle its internal problems head-on. It would be good to have more experts, such as auditors, certified public accountants, and financial analysts, in its roster.
The strict compliance of contractors and media entities in providing receipts and advertising contracts is greatly needed as well. The SOCE is self-reporting essentially. The CFO has to rely on third-party sources of information to verify a candidate’s declaration. Without complete submission from these entities particularly the media, which receive bulk of campaign funds for advertising, it would be difficult for the CFO to conduct an airtight audit.
Internet advertising, for instance, is not clearly defined in the law, making it difficult for Comelec to regulate it. It can be done but excuses will always be raised because the rules are not clear.
4. Revisiting elections laws
Even while campaign finance measures and practice in the Philippines is seen as a model by other countries, what may be good on paper may not necessarily be the same when it comes to implementation. While strides have been observed in the past decade, many challenges still hound campaign finance affecting its implementation and its ability to hold public officials accountable.
Election reform advocates like Ramon Casiple, executive director of IPER, have pushed for the passage of a political party reform bill for years. For Casiple, the future of campaign finance will always depend on the future of politics in the country.
The bill introduced in Congress covers anti-turncoatism, state subsidy for parties, and the strict enforcement of campaign finance regulation. Passing such laws, as in all legal reforms, greatly depends on lawmakers of course. The reality is that if an agency or institution does not perform its role, it would also be difficult for the Comelec to do its work.
The legislative branch will also need to look into conflicting laws that have proven to be a cause for candidates to be “creative” in campaign finance reporting or legitimately allows them to exclude legitimate campaign spending in the equation.
RA 7166 sets the spending cap at P10.00 (USD 0.2) per voter for those running for president and vice president, and P3.00 (USD 0.06) per voter for those vying for other posts. Candidates who are not supported by any political party may be allowed to spend P5.00 (USD 0.1) for every voter. This small amount, many electoral reform advocates say, is no longer realistic.
RA 7166 also sets a fixed period for campaign activities and “any election campaign or partisan political activity for and against any candidate outside of the campaign period herein provided is prohibited and shall be considered as an election offense.” The campaign period is prescribed to commence 90 days and 45 days before the day of the election for national and local posts, respectively.
Unfortunately, legal interpreters including the Comelec itself, argue that a person is not considered an official candidate without an official filing of candidacy. This argument implies that even as “unofficial candidates” engage in “indirect campaign activities” these cannot be considered as pre-campaigning.
Still and all, the development of campaign-finance awareness in the Philippines has helped increase the demand for reform. This should remain a strategy – that there should be a demand in such a way that policymakers would have no other choice but to heed the demand.
5. Forging and sustaining collaborations between and among elections watchdogs and news media
The Philippine experience in monitoring campaign finance took a significant shift when election watchdogs and the news media made it high on their respective agendas. The PAP consortium for instance was regarded as key source of campaign finance information during the campaigns. This was made possible through the support of aid agencies. The work of individual election watchdogs continued beyond the life of the consortium, but efforts to sustain such collaboration is worth revisiting. FIN— PCIJ, May 2021