LP, NP hit Comelec warning on endorsements

By Carmela Fonbuena, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Feb 11 2010 03:54 PM | Updated as of Feb 12 2010 07:42 AM

But Lakas-Kampi official supports it

MANILA, Philippines (1st UPDATE) - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) regulation on celebrity endorsements should differentiate between those who are paid and those who are doing it for free, according to a member of the communications team of Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Senator Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III.

“It should be clear that the spirit of the law is referring to paid endorsers, not volunteer supporters. It is the right of every citizen, whether an actor or not, to volunteer and support his candidate,” Campaigns and Grey President Yolanda Ong told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak when asked to comment on the Comelec reminder. Campaigns and Grey is a marketing-advertising company.

In the 2001 senatorial elections, Ong was involved in the advertising campaign of then senatorial candidate Manuel Villar, Aquino's closest rival in this year's presidential elections. In 2007, she helped Aquino in his successful senatorial campaign.

Aquino, brother of celebrity host Kris Aquino, is said to have the most number of celebrity endorsers among the presidential candidates.
Aside from Kris, Gretchen Barretto, Vilma Santos, and Sharon Cuneta--who all have relatives in the Liberal Party ticket--Aquino is also endorsed by Boy Abunda, Ai-Ai Delas Alas, Dingdong Dantes, Marian Rivera, Ogie Alcasid, Regine Velasquez, Anne Curtis, Erik Santos, Bea Alonzo, Mariel Rodriguez, Sitti, Pooh, Kim Chiu, Kris Bernal, and Aljur Abrenica.

Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda claimed none of them was paid a single centavo for their endorsement.

“It’s a strong and firm belief from among the celebrities that 'Noy is the best leader to govern the country and rid the government of corruption,” Lacierda said.

Mixed reactions

According to Comelec legal department head Ferdinand Rafanan, Republic Act 9006 or the Fair Elections Act is clear that celebrities should go on leave if they are endorsing candidates. Celebrities whose endorsements will be aired during the regulated period will be considered campaigners or campaign volunteers of candidates, he said.

"Kahit sinong media personality, on-air correspondent, basta naging campaigner, volunteer or campaign staff ng kandidato, ang sabi ng RA 9006 (Fair Elections Act), you should resign or take a leave of absence from being media personality," Comelec legal division chief Ferdinand Rafanan told ABS-CBN's Umagang Kay Ganda (UKG). (See story: Comelec: Celebrity endorsers must go on leave)

Section 6 (6.6) of the Fair Elections Act or Republic Act 9006 states: “Any mass media columnist, commentator, announcer, reporter, on-air correspondent or personality who is a candidate for any elective public office or is a campaign volunteer for or employed by any candidate or political party shall be deemed resigned, if so required by their employer, or shall take a leave of absence from his/her own work as such during the campaign period.”

Rafanan said Comelec can file criminal complaints against celebrities who don't go on leave from their shows and programs during the campaign period.

The Comelec warning reminding candidates and celebrities about the provision in the Fair Elections Act generated opposing views from campaign strategists and political advertisers.

NP: It’s unconstitutional

The Nacionalista Party (NP) is questioning the Comelec resolution. NP senatorial candidate Adel Tamano, a constitutional law professor, said the policy violates the Constitution.

“The Comelec resolution implementing section 6 of the Fair Elections Act mandating that celebrity endorsers go on leave is unconstitutional and violates the rights of freedom of association and expression,” Tamano argued.

NP standard-bearer Villar also has a string of celebrities endorsing him. Although fewer in number than Aquino's, Villar's  endorsers are very popular among the lower-income sectors of Philippine society--“Comedy King” Dolphy Quizon, Wowowee show host Willie Revillame, multi-awarded singer-actress Sarah Geronimo, and boxing champion Manny Pacquiao.

“Why should celebrities be penalized for expressing their support for candidates? They are covered by the same rights to express their opinions and support candidates that they like, which is a right of all Filipino citizens, so why single them out?” he added.
Tamano is also endorsed by celebrities Robin Padilla and Ogie Alcasid.

“Ogie Alcasid has done a TV commercial for me and is endorsing me. Without his help, it will be difficult for the public to recognize me. Celebrity endorsers serve an important purpose especially for lesser known candidates like myself by acting as the bridge to introduce a worthy but less-known candidate. They level the playing field against candidates who are re-electionists and artista or media personalities who are already well known to the public,” Tamano explained.

“I hate to say it but perhaps this latest COMELEC resolution is a mere ploy to distract the public. The COMELEC has bigger problems to solve – from all these delays in ballot printing and deliveries of PCOS [Precinct Count Optical Scan] machines, to assuring the public that signals won’t be jammed during transmission of election results. Why don’t they concentrate on those first?,” he added.

Comelec supporters

The Comelec's warning, however, was backed by the biggest ad spender in the 2007 senatorial race, former Surigao Del Sur Rep. Prospero Pichay, and campaign strategist Marilou Tiquia.

“That will level the playing filed as far as TV is concerned. If you’re endorsing a candidate, and you appear on the TV shows, you will be identified with the candidate [you are endorsing]. It will be unfair to the other candidates,” Pichay said.

Lakas-Kampi-CMD presidential bet Gilbert Teodoro, who is way behind in the presidential surveys, has few celebrity endorsers.

Pichay, who is now the campaign manager of the administration’s senatorial candidates, did not tap celebrities for his ads in 2007. Pichay failed to win a seat in the Senate despite spending heavily on political ads.

Campaign strategist Marilou Tiquia is in favor of the ruling, too. She was part of the successful "Mr. Palengke" senatorial campaign of Manuel Roxas 'Mar' II in 2004. She also worked for the team that prepared the botched 2010 presidential bid of Senator Francis Escudero.

“I am for it to level the playing field. It’s in the Fair Elections Act. Portion-buys in game shows should not be allowed because only moneyed candidates can do that. Endorsers should be responsible and they should know their limits because political discourse is not about artistas,” Tiquia said.

Villar's camp has been engaged in portion-buys in popular noontime shows, Eat Bulaga and Wowowee. They give out cash and other prizes in these segments.

“Media practitioners should report news and not propaganda. They serve public interests. Opinion-makers, on the other hand, should adhere to fair play and call a spade a spade, and no embellishment should be made so that readers are able to filter spin from the truth,” she added.

Confusing ruling

LP campaign manager Butch Abad said the Comelec regulation is "confusing" and "highly irregular."

"The Supreme Court reversed a 100-year-old policy that requires appointive officials to resign when they file their certificate of candidacy. They are able to use and employ the influence of their office to have undue advantage in the election. And now, these entertainers, these volunteers, you are making them suffer by forcing them to forgo their livelihood? They are only exercising their right to free speech," Abad told abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak.

Abad was referring to the SC ruling that allows appointed officials, including police generals, to keep their posts even if they are running for public office. This has allowed Cabinet members, who are seeking national and local elective posts, to continue serving the administration, thus giving them an undue advantage over their rivals.

"It's highly discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. Bakit kapag kakampi nila, they whimsically change a long-standing policy just for political accommodation. They make these people, these entertainers, suffer. It shows that the government is biased and does not follow the rule of law," Abad added.