MANILA - Politicians across party lines are studying a cap on campaign contributions to level the playing field among candidates and curb the corrupt deals that crop up with every change of political administration.
Senators Grace Poe, Francis Escudero and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. told ABS-CBNnews.com a campaign contributions cap and more transparency would be a major reform for the Philippines, which already limits campaigns expenditures.
Escudero also said he is set discuss with Senate electoral reforms committee chair Aquilino Pimentel III a measure to limit campaign contributions.
Senate President Franklin Drilon of the Liberal Party (LP) also told ABS-CBNnews.com that he supports the call in principle but wants to study the government's ability to enforce the cap.
He said the campaign expenditures cap was a good model until the Commission on Elections (Comelec) changed the limit of media advertising.
United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) spokesman Toby Tiangco also said the cap would be "ideal" if it could be implemented properly.
"Without a cap on contributions, candidates with a high level of financial resources at their disposal would have an advantage," Poe said. "Perhaps, putting a cap might level the playing field."
Poe said a working group is studying the experience of other, more mature democracies, like the United States.
A former presidential adviser on environmental concerns and LP member, Neric Acosta, also cited the US model and the $2,500 cap for individual donors.
Poe, who gave up US citizenship when she joined the Philippine government in 2010, said the American cap was aimed at eliminating "the corrupting influence of wealthy individuals and corporations in politics."
A cap on donations would also encourage ordinary citizens to engage and participate in the political process beyond just voting for candidates, she added.
Acosta cited the 2008 campaign of US President Barack Obama, who urged citizens to underwrite his race.
The flood of smaller contributions – some at $5 – created a bandwagon of genuine grassroots support and made people feel more invested in stumping for their candidate.
Marcos said he would back a cap. He also called for all contributions to be made public to avoid conflict of interest.
'UTANG NA LOOB'
Political scientists welcomed the senators' move, saying it would ease politicians' dependence on powerful interest groups.
Prof. Edna Co of the University of the Philippines (UP) National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) said the absence of cap allows a big donor to dominate the campaign of a candidate.
"The candidate becomes beholden to a sponsor given the enormous contributions, and this then breeds the culture of 'utang na loob' (debt of gratitude)," Co said.
Even if there are other contributors, the biggest donor is bound to become the most influential patron of a candidate, she pointed out.
The cap on campaign expenditures has disqualified at least one gubernatorial winner, Laguna's Emilio Ramon Ejercito.
But politicians have been reporting excess campaign contributions for years.
President Benigno Aquino III reported P37 million in excess campaign contributions after his successful 2010 campaign. Malacañang has said he did not keep the funds, returning P14 million to donors and paying more than P18 million in taxes.
Vice President Jejomar Binay also reported P13 million in excess campaign donations in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN). As of 2014, he was waiting for a Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) ruling on these funds.
In an earlier controversy, Rep. Mikey Arroyo used excess campaign funds to purchase a house and lot in California. His father, Mike Arroyo, was also accused to diverting campaign funds to secret bank accounts.
'BE MORE RADICAL'
Political scientist Antonio Contreras said there should be a cap both on campaign contributions and election spending "to dampen the intensity of collectibles and IOUs on winning politicians."
The law should not fix an amount, according to Contreras. He proposed "a technical committee that reviews the cap periodically to keep up with changing costs of campaign operations."
For a more meaningful, open democracy, Contreras said the Philippine state provide subsidies for marginal parties.
Those candidates who will not be able to raise the funds required to run a campaign should be subsidized only for the deficit of the elections expense, he said.