IN THEIR bid to be Iloilo City’s chief executive from 2016 to 2019, then incumbent Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog (Liberal Party) and Dr. Marigold Gonzalez (Independent, but with support from the United Nationalist Alliance) staged a costly advertising war that later ran into a total of more than P1 million for radio spots alone.
Yet when time came to submit their respective Statement of Expenditures and Contributions (SOCE) to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), it seemed only a portion of the radio spots were accounted for in Mabilog’s documents, while no such item appeared in Gonzalez’s papers at all.
Both also did not list any expenditure for several campaign standards such as compensation of campaigners, clerks, messengers and other personnel; communication costs, including landline and mobile phone fees, internet access, and courier charges; employment of watchers at the polls; and rent and maintenance of headquarters or meeting sites.
Gonzalez declared a measly P49,402.50 in expenditures for the entire 45 days of official campaigning. Mabilog, for his part, said in his SOCE that his campaign expenditures reached P582,433.78.
Nielsen Media monitoring of political ads in Iloilo City from March to May 2016 showed, though, that based on published rate cards, radio spots paid for Gonzalez amounted to P671,040 in April and the first week of May, while radio spots paid for Mabilog amounted P688,822 during the same period.
Classified as first class in terms of income, the Western Visayan city of Iloilo has a population of 448,000 and a land area of 7,834 hectares. During the May 9, 2016 elections, it had 261,481 registered voters. At P3 per voter, this means Gonzalez and Mabilog each had a campaign spending limit of P784,443.
The daughter of the late Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr., Gonzalez was seeking a political comeback for her family. Her brother Raul Jr. lost in the congressional election in 2010, and Gonzalez was determined to give the mayoralty fight her best shot.
Mabilog, meanwhile, was as resolved to continue being mayor and have his third and last term. But he also apparently did not underestimate the capacity of his main foe to crush him, aware that his previous alliance with the Gonzalezes had been an important chapter in his political career. (There was a third candidate as well, Arnel de la Llana, who ran as an Independent, but neither Gonzalez nor Mabilog appeared to consider him a threat.)
In the end, Mabilog got to keep his seat as mayor, winning 148,658 votes over Gonzalez’s 53,371. (De la Llana got 1,609 votes.)
In his SOCE, Mabilog said that he received a P250,000 cash donation from balikbayan-businessman Joebert Evidente, as well as an in-kind donation, particularly TV ads worth P247,643.76, from another balikbayan-businessman, Leoncio ‘Guy’ Garcia. The rest of his campaign funds were from his own pocket; Mabilog did not list any contribution from his party, which considers Iloilo city and province as its political bailiwick.
Mabilog’s SOCE says that he spent P20,998.62 or 3.6 percent of his expenditures on fuel and P13,380 or 2.29 percent on tarpaulins.
But the bulk of his P548,055.16 expenditure – about 94 percent – was for radio and TV ads. According to his SOCE, these were for political ads run by ABS-CBN (P259,783.16); Bombo Radyo Philippines (P90,272); GMA Network (P50,000); MBC-Aksyon Radyo (P40,000); and Radio Mindanao Network or RMN (P108,000).
It’s unclear if the mentioned ads run by BomboRadyo and RMN in Mabilog’s SOCE cover those monitored by Nielsen during April and the first week of May. Then again, the amounts in his SOCE and those by Nielsen don’t quite match.
Nielsen monitored 12 30-seconder Mabilog radio ads in April that were aired by DYFM-AM/837 KHZ (BomboRadyo-Iloilo) amounting to P81,600. By the first week of May, Mabilog’s radio pol ads had surged to 66, which were aired in various primetime programs of BomboRadyoIloilo and DYRI-AM/774 KHZ or RMN Iloilo; these reached a total of P607,200.
Of these 78 radio pol ads, 66 were paid for by “Friends of Mayor Jed Mabilog” while 12 were paid by his spokesperson, lawyer Mark Piad.
Missing in Mabilog’s SOCE as well were expenditures for political rallies and meetings. By comparison, these were present in Gonzalez’s SOCE, in which she said she spent P25,402.50 for political meetings and rallies and the use of sound systems, lights, and decoration. She also said she spent P24,000 for stationery, printing, and distribution of campaign materials.
But Gonzalez’s SOCE lists no expenditure or donation for political ads, even though in April Nielsen had recorded a total of 60 30-seconder ads espousing her crusade to help the downtrodden. Costing a total of P498,000 and aired by Aksyon Radyo Iloilo, these radio ads were paid for by “Friends” of Gonzalez.
Days before election day, Gonzalez also had 12 30-seconder pol ads aired in Aksyon Radyo Iloilo and 18 15-seconder aired in BomboRadyo-Iloilo, according to Nielsen. Focused on the return of her family’s brand of public service and free hospitalization, and fighting corruption, all these 30 ads were paid for by “Friends of Dr. Gold Gonzalez.” Based on published rate cards, they cost a total of P173,040.
Gonzalez’s SOCE does not list any donors or contributions. This writer tried to reach her for comment, but she was then vacationing in the United States.
Meanwhile, Mayor Mabilog’s spokesperson Piad described the campaign of Mabilog as “according to the laws and rules set by the Comelec.”
“Before the start of the campaign, Mayor Mabilog was calling our attention to make sure that we don’t exceed the limits provided for the law,” Piad said. “With the radio ads, I was the one who was actually really monitoring it. I made sure that we complied with the minutes, with the spending allowed by Comelec.”
It was Piad who prepared Mabilog’s SOCE, which means he should know what ads were placed for the mayor. Still, he said that he was unaware there were ads paid for by “Friends,” although he did not seem totally surprised when told about these.
“If it passes through me, the requirements in radio are very strict, because you have to disclose who these people are,” Piad said. So if it passes through me, definitely there will be names and addresses because those are the standards set for by the Comelec. But there are other supporters whom we don’t know of, whom we have limited or no control of. As far as I know, I have no idea (about ads paid for by friends).”
Piad also said that they were able to keep campaign expenses relatively tight by tapping social media.
“One thing that we really took advantage of sa campaign ni Mayor Mabilog was social media,” he said.” We all know that almost everybody is in social media so we really took advantage of technology. If we look at it, we don’t have to really spend on that aspect. Or we don’t have to spend on Facebook – I mean you just put up a poster, you tagged people, eventually if there are other people or supporters who like and share, it becomes massive.”
“The most of our communications were made through social media, through Facebook, Messenger,” Piad continued. “It is easier to spread information or communicate that way because you know when the other party had seen it, what time they had seen it, you know that the message came across. We really took advantage of technology, the social media. Number one, it’s free, so, almost all of us have FB accounts. That’s one thing we didn’t spend on, communication, because everybody is on Facebook.”
Piad said Mabilog did not incur expenses for manpower as well because a strong group of volunteers like the Red Ladies.
“Well, most of them were volunteers,” Piad explained. “If you recall we have volunteer groups nga very supportive kay Mayor Mabilog, especially ang Red Ladies. They are very supportive of him. Most of it were efforts of volunteers coming together to show their support for Mayor Jed.”
Expenses were further kept at a minimum with the volunteers just getting posters at the campaign headquarters, he said. “There were campaign materials in the HQ, then the volunteers would just go there…(and) get how many posters they want. It was really not distributed to them. We don’t really have a group that will go to one place and put up posters. (And we don’t give them anything in return.”
Piad added that “sa headquarters, wala man kami gasto. It was lent to us for free, so walang gasto.”
As for why there were no expenditures for political rallies in Mabilog’s SOCE, Piad recalled that most of grand sorties held in the city were with the national candidates of LP.
In any event, Election Officer (EO) IV lawyer Reinier Layson of Comelec-Iloilo City expressed surprise when told that several radio ads paid for Mabilog and Gonzalez by undisclosed or unnamed persons were aired, and then later not reflected in their SOCEs.
Thinking aloud, he said that a candidate must first accept the ads paid for him or her, and that this must be ensured by media outlets before airing any political ad. Explained Layson: “When there is no acceptance by the candidate, he can deny it and say, ‘That should not be counted against me or that airtime’.”
He said that without such acceptance, political ads should not be aired.
“Dapat hindi (They shouldn’t be),” Layson said. “The media outfits must be responsible enough to know they have a duty or are duty-bound to follow strictly what is provided by the law. And if they don’t follow, it is a clear violation of the law, and an election offense.”
Layson, who was temporarily assigned in Antique during the campaign period, also commented after looking at the SOCEs of Gonzalez and Mabilog, “Practically speaking, the stated cost (for stationery, printing, and distribution of printed materials) here does not reflect the actual number of campaign material posted in the city. It raises a question: Is it really true? But we are not in the position to determine, to find out if it is true or not, because we only rely on their statements.”
He also said that election officers like him are tasked only to receive the SOCE, ensure its attachments are complete, then forward the document to the Campaign Finance Office (CFO) in Manila.
“In fact,” said Layson, “our duty here is ministerial, and we only receive this (SOCE), and we only — of course after checking, if they have complied with the procedures sa filing, including all the attachments, which should be complete – forward everything to the Campaign Finance Office. They are the ones who verify and of course scrutinize the entries of our candidates.”
But while he left to the CFO the task of going over Gonzalez and Mabilog’s SOCEs with a fine-toothed comb, Layson said that he cannot blame candidates if they do not put everything that they should in their SOCEs. Instead, he blamed what he described as an obsolete law mandating the campaign-spending cap.
“What hinders them in declaring the true cost of their candidacy is because of the limitations provided by the law on how much they can actually spend for their candidacy,” he said. “That’s really dated na, matagal na ‘yung law na ‘yun (the law is already old). We have to factor in the inflation. The cost of a candidate’s campaign in the previous election is probably cheaper compared to now. The value of our money devaluates due to inflation.”
Section 13 of Republic Act No. 7166 or the Synchronized National and Local Elections Act provides the mechanics on how to calculate the legal campaign spending limits for candidates and parties. The law was enacted on Nov. 26, 1991, when the exchange rate between Philippine peso and the U.S. dollar was about P27 to $1.
Layson thinks that it is about time Congress enacts a more responsive and more up-to-date law pertaining to campaign finance, indicating that the spending limits have simply not kept up with the times and are now unrealistic. In other words, candidates are being forced to make do with campaigns that may not really work because they are underfunded, or spend and then lie about the cost later.
“If we look at it, we cannot really find fault with the candidates because they are also scared that if they declare the true amount of their campaign expenses, that would only mean them committing an election offense,” Layson said. “That would only mean disqualification against them. So, in the first place it would defeat their purpose of running for a certain elective office, and being elected into that, only to be disqualified later on, and to be convicted later on of an election offense, having declared honestly the actual amount spent for their candidacy.”
He pointed out, “If this will not be addressed by the Congress immediately prior to the next elections, then our CF monitoring will still be a rehash of the previous (election), this is what we will also see.”
* Maricyn A. de los Santos is a reporter for the Iloilo City-based The Daily Guardian and writes for the Philippines News Agency. She had also worked as desk editor of The Daily Guardian and The News Today, and as head writer of Pinoy Parazzi.— PCIJ, August 2017