Jail for overspending candidates?

By Maria Althea Teves, Newsbreak

Posted at Feb 17 2010 06:57 PM | Updated as of Feb 18 2010 02:57 AM

MANILA, Philippines--Electoral reform group Pera’t Pulitika on Wednesday launched a project to strictly monitor presidential candidates’ campaign expenditures within the 90-day campaign period.

“We hope to encourage prosecution of violations of campaign finance laws. We at Libertás will be willing to help in this effort,” lawyer Louie Tito de Guia said.

Under Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code, as amended by Republic Act 7166 last 1991, any one guilty of overspending will be punished with imprisonment of 1 to 6 years.

While the law has been in place for 19 years, De Guia said that lack of evidence or witnesses has derailed past efforts to file complaints against overspending candidates. He said this is part of what the Pera’t Pulitika consortium seeks to address.

“We would support citizens themselves in reporting violations and we will organize a group of lawyers who would assist these citizens to do the reports themselves [for submission to the Comelec],” he said.

Aside from Libertas, the consortium is composed of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), the Consortium for Electoral Reform (CER), and the Association of Schools of Public Administration in the Philippines (ASPAP).

Using the data of media monitoring group AGB Nielsen, PCIJ is in charge of monitoring the candidates’ expenses for “air war” or television advertising—where the bulk of campaign funds usually go.

CER, on the other hand, is monitoring expenses for “ground war” or the expenses for traditional campaign strategies like sorties, meetings, press conferences, and “postering” activities.

“I guess this would be the first time anyone would ever try to persecute a national candidate on overspending during the campaign period,” CER’s Ramon Casiple told Newsbreak at the sidelines of the Pera’t Pulitika launch.

Outdated laws

But De Guia stressed that Pera’t Pulitika will not be the one to file cases against the candidates. He said the project is principally meant to help them draft proposals to reform the country’s outdated campaign finance regulations.

“At this point in time for 2010 we will first make do with advocacy, we hope that there will be a groundswell of support,” De Guia said.

The law only allows each candidate for a national position to spend P10 per voter, and the candidate’s political party could spend up to P5 per voter.

According to a newly released PCIJ report, a number of presidential candidates have put out so many TV ads that a number them have exceeded the allowable campaign expenditure.

Casiple said the 2010 elections is the most expensive and longest elections in Philippine history.

For Casiple, the unofficial campaign period started in November 2007 when the Liberal Party elected Senator Manuel Roxas as party president. Roxas was then LP’s prospective standard bearer.

But the political climate changed after the death of democracy icon President Corazon Aquino in August 2009. Roxas gave way to Senator Benigno Aquino III.

Nationalista Party candidate Manuel Villar also started early, according to political strategist Lito Banayo. He claimed that as early as 2007, Villar’s camp had been conducting focus group discussion (FGDs) to guide his presidential campaign. (Newsbreak)