A poll monitoring group on Wednesday accused eight incumbent senators, three of whom are said to be eyeing the presidency in 2010 polls, of violating the media airtime and advertising spending limits set by the Fair Election Act.
In its report titled "Campaign Spending in the 2007 Elections: A Challenge to 2010 Elections," Pera’t Pulitika (PaP) disclosed that during last year’s campaign periodm eight senators had violated the television and radio airtime limits.
The law allows a candidate a total of 120 minutes airtime for TV and 180 minutes for radio during the entire campaign period.
Eight of the incumbent legislators, however, have violated the limits when they ran for senator in 2007, according to PaP’s report.
For TV airtime, the report identified the alleged violators as Senators Joker Arroyo, a total airtime of 289 minutes; Edgardo Angara, 251 minutes; Manuel Villar Jr., 243 minutes; Francis Pangilinan, 181 minutes; Benigno Aquino III, 165 minutes; Juan Miguel Zubiri, 153 minutes; and Loren Legarda, 146 minutes.
Except for Pangilinan and Aquino, these senators allegedly also went beyond the radio airtime limits, PaP’s report showed.
Villar had the highest radio exposure with a total of 7,883 minutes followed by Zubiri, 5,315 minutes; Legarda, 4,371 minutes; Angara, 4,170 minutes; and Arroyo, 3,061 minutes.
PaP’s report also bared that Sen. Francis Escudero had a total of 3,983 minutes.
Villar, Legarda and Escudero are said to be among the contenders for the 2010 presidential elections.
PaP’s report also showed that some senators were liable for violating the campaign spending limit of P3 per registered voter for candidates with a political party, or approximately P135 million each for the 2007 senatorial candidates.
"What is alarming is that no one violated airtime limits and no one overspent in the last elections, if based on the legislators’ reports to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC)," said Transparency and Accountability Network’s Vincent Lazatin, PaP co-convenor.
Based on PaP’s monitoring, most incumbent senators also purportedly exceeded their total campaign spending although their statements of expenditures submitted to the COMELEC presented otherwise.
Below is PaP’s report on media spending of 2007 senatorial candidates who were elected to office vis-à-vis their statement of expenditures and contributions submitted to COMELEC. PaP figures comprised the lawmakers’ spending on TV, radio, and print advertisements only.
PaP monitored media spending (discounted*), (Php, in mil)
Statement of total expenditure submitted to COMELEC (Php, in mil)
|Villar ||156,012 ||84,532|
|Arroyo ||128,247 ||83,430|
|Angara ||118,825 ||94,822|
|Legarda ||108,285 ||86,193|
|Zubiri ||91,125 ||89,177|
|Aquino ||76,108 ||68,127|
|Escudero ||73,336 ||64,949|
|Pangilinan ||69,826 ||67,029|
|Lacson, Panfilo ||67,190 ||82,870|
|Pimentel, Aquilino Jr. ||54,472 ||29,963|
|Cayetano, Alan Peter ||31,953 ||37,214|
|Trillanes, Antonio ||7,557 ||4,937|
*The law mandates that candidates must receive discounted rates of 30% for television, 20% for radio and 10% for print
The report said: "The purpose of monitoring campaign finance is not merely to establish if campaign spending limits are being violated, but, more importantly, to determine whether or not there exists a level-playing field in the electoral contest."
"Further, although beyond the scope of this report, understanding funding for campaigns is also critical in determining the relationships between the funders of the campaign and the political behavior of candidates," it added.
The monitoring conducted by PaP was confined to the official campaign period from Feb. 13, 2007 to May 12, 2007, the report said. PaP’s data on political advertisements, meanwhile, were based on the Nielsen Media Research-generated data of political advertisements during the 2007 campaign period.
Largest amount spent
Lazatin believed that compared to the 2004 elections, candidates spent the largest amount last year.
"When we did compare 2007 and 2004 spending, we found that 2007 spending was two and half times larger than spending in 2004 for all media for all candidates," he said.
On the sources of the campaign kitty, Lazatin and another PaP co-convenor, Edna Co, admitted that "it is very difficult" to determine whether the funds came from the candidates’ own pockets or from contributions.
"We did not sort out exactly the sources but what we did look at what was the amount spent on political ads and how they used the money on political ads," said Co.
Co, who led in analyzing the findings, also noticed that based on the 2004 and 2007 elections, more candidates are now spending on tri-media, particularly on TV, to reach a wider audience.
Lazatin added: "Because the project in 2007 was a pilot project, we looked only on the expenditure side. We didn’t look at the funding side. We hope in 2010, when we expand the monitoring, we will include sources of funds. But, unfortunately, for 2007 we don’t have any data on the sources of funding."
COMELEC vows reforms
Lawyer Ferdinand Rafanan, head of COMELEC’s law department, admitted that the figures in the candidates’ statements of expenditures and contributions must be verified in order to check the authenticity of the figures.
Rafanan said as far as the documents submitted to the COMELEC are concerned all candidates did not exceed the limits set by law, but he admitted that the numbers have never been verified.
"Nobody’s verifying the figures. We should verify that," he said.
He said the COMELEC will look into the report of overspending once it gets a copy of the findings.
He said the candidates are criminally liable if it is proven that they have falsified their statements of expenditures and contributions.
For overspending, a candidate can be imprisoned for one to six years and a disqualification from running for public office, the lawyer said.