Presidential candidates Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III and Manuel "Manny" Villar are not only facing disqualification; they may also face jail time for exceeding air time ad limits, a Comelec official said Saturday.
“One to six years imprisonment, disenfranchisement and disqualification are punishments for election offense,” Comelec legal chief Ferdinand Rafanan told radio dzMM.
Rafanan, however, clarified that the candidates can only be disqualified from the May 10 elections only after they are convicted in a criminal case.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said Friday that based on the initial monitoring of the poll body, Aquino and Villar’s Nacionalista Party (NP) have already exceeded their air time limits in ABS-CBN.
Jimenez said that from February 9 to March 12, Aquino has logged in 291.5 minutes of personal air time in ABS-CBN while the NP had 256.5 minutes.
He said Villar has used up only 27.75 minutes of personal air time in the same TV station.
The Comelec, however, did not clarify if the candidates’ political ads in radio dzMM are included in the initial numbers.
Jimenez said that the NP and Aquino’s Liberal Party apparently used different strategies to go around the air time limit. He said the LP initially charged their political ads to the personal account of Aquino while the NP listed the commercials of Villar to the party.
Rafanan said that he has ordered the lawyers at the Comelec legal department to clarify the data.
He said the data were released without informing his office.
Rafanan explained that according to the Comelec en banc rules, air time limits in radio and television are supposed to be counted separately.
He said candidates and political parties are allowed 120 minutes of television air time for each network and 180 minutes of radio air time.
A separate report released by AGB Nielsen Media Research showed that Aquino and Villar had already exceeded their air time limits in ABS-CBN and GMA 7.
It said Aquino has logged 128 minutes of political ad air time in ABS-CBN and 118 minutes in GMA 7 while Villar has already used 122.5 minutes in ABS-CBN and 128.25 minutes in GMA 7.
Networks liable, too
Rafanan said that if ever the initial data from the Comelec and AGB Nielsen are correct, the television networks may also be charged for committing an election offense.
“If there is probable cause, the network and the candidate will be charged because the participation in committing an election offense is indispensible,” he said.
He added that the Comelec also has the power to stop networks from airing the political ads of the candidates who have already exceeded their air time limits.