2 Comelec commissioners to observe US presidential polls

By Sheila Crisostomo, The Philippine Star

Posted at Nov 03 2012 08:51 AM | Updated as of Nov 04 2012 02:42 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Two commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) will go to United States to observe the coming presidential election and also study American campaign spending to be able to implement rules on campaign finances in the 2013 polls in the Philippines.

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes said commissioners Armando Velasco and Grace Padaca would observe the Nov. 6 US presidential polls and also attend seminars on campaign funding on the invitation of the International Foundation for Electoral System, a non-government organization that promotes free and fair elections.

“They will be attending many sessions so we can learn the process, especially on campaign finance which is very complicated. We really would like to know more about that,” Brillantes said.

The observation tour and seminar will be held in Washington DC from Nov. 4 to 8.

The invitation was addressed to Brillantes and Velasco but the chairman opted to offer his slot to Padaca, who might be assigned to handle campaign finance since she is a certified public accountant. Padaca left for the US yesterday morning.

Velasco, who was scheduled to leave last night, said they would also study election adjudication and the concerns of people with disabilities, among others.

Brillantes added that the US experience might help the Comelec in pushing for the amendment of Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Election Act to level the playing field among candidates.

“We really have to amend our system. We want to implement strictly our laws and rules on campaign spending because of loopholes. The campaign limits there are also not realistic,” he said.

The Comelec is also pushing for a limit in campaign contributions, since elections have become fund-raising activities for some candidates.

At present, the poll body is beset with the lack of a law on premature campaigning so it intends to make up for this by making sure that candidates will not overspend in the campaign.

To start this off, the Comelec issued Resolution No. 9476 or the Rules and Regulations Governing Campaign Finance and Disclosure last June to clarify policies on campaign contribution and expenditures and propaganda.

With the resolution, the agency now refers to “election propaganda” as “any matter broadcast, published, printed, or exhibited which is intended to draw the attention of the public or a segment thereof to promote or oppose, directly or indirectly, the election of a particular candidate or candidates to a public office.”

This is in lieu of the term “political advertisement” in Resolution No. 8758 promulgated in Feb. 4, 2010 which was vague and broad, thus enabling candidates to skirt around the rules.

Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said Malacañang has no position yet on a bill seeking to prohibit government officials from endorsing products or services, but it is ready to coordinate with the lawmakers who proposed it.

Valte said they have yet to discuss the provisions of House bill no. 2571 authored by Reps. Rufus and Maximo Rodriguez.

“You know this is new. We have not had the chance to discuss this,” Valte told state-run radio station dzRB yesterday.

Valte said the Presidential Legislative Liaison Office (PLLO) would have to talk to the authors of the measure.

“We’ll let the PLLO coordinate with the sponsors of the bill. The PLLO serves as our liaison (to Congress),” the Palace spokesperson said.

“It will be up to the PLLO to discuss it also with the President,” she added.

House bill no. 2571 bars all public officials, whether elected or appointed, to endorse any product or service in any form or medium.

The authors of the bill said some officials of the legislative and executive branches are “now prematurely campaigning in the guise of commercial advertising and personal advocacies.”

They claimed that the commercials give these officials undue advantage over other prospective candidates.

“No public official shall endorse products which may be deemed to be premature campaigning for public office,” the bill read.

“Likewise, there may be conflict of interest if the public official (is) involved in the investigation of the product endorsed.”

Violators may be removed from office, disqualified from holding any government post or running for any position in the next election or slapped with a fine in an amount not less than double the amount of the value of the advertisement.

Various sectors have criticized politicians who appeared in various commercials, saying they are trying to bolster their images way ahead of the campaign period.

Among the senatorial bets who are endorsing products or who appeared in ads that promote certain advocacies are Senators Francis Escudero, Ramon Revilla Jr., Alan Peter Cayetano and Koko Pimentel, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, Reps. Juan Edgardo Angara and Jack Enrile and Puerto Princesa City Mayor Edward Hagedorn. – With Alexis Romero