Comelec wants clearer rules on premature campaigning

by Purple S. Romero,

Posted at Oct 08 2009 01:24 PM | Updated as of Oct 08 2009 10:47 PM

MANILA - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will move for the amendment of the Omnibus Election Code to explicitly define premature campaigning.

Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said in a budget hearing Wednesday at the Senate that they will submit their recommendations for this revision as the current law constrains them from running after presidential wannabes who have been airing advertisements even prior to the campaign period, which officially starts February next year.

Sec. 80 states that “It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any party, or association of persons, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the campaign period.”

For contenders to national positions, the campaign period starts 90 days before the election; for local candidates, the permissible period is 45 days before the polls.  

Candidates could be disqualified if found guilty of premature campaigning.  

Sec.79 of the Omnibus Election Code, however, defines a candidate as a person who has already filed his certificate of candidacy.  

Comelec chair Jose Melo has said that the current law has made them “powerless” since they cannot lift a finger against personalities whose ads have been flashed on television as mere infomercials.  

Taking up the challenge

Sen. Richard Gordon, chair of the finance sub-committee, asked the poll body to crack the whip on public figures who have already spent millions on ads months before the campaign period for the 2010 elections.   

Gordon, citing figures from the Philippine Star, said that Sen. Manuel Villar has spent P321.4 million for his ads, Sen. Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas,  P256.7 million; Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay, P115.1 million; Vice President Noli de Castro, P45.8 million; Sen. Loren Legarda, P42 million; and, Defense Sec. Gilberto Teodoro Jr., P30.7 million.

He added that he brought this up in light of a recent Supreme Court decision where a mayor in Surigao del Norte was ordered removed from her post for premature campaigning in the 2007 local elections.

The SC, in a vote of 8-7, disqualified Rosalinda Penera, mayor of Santa Monica, Surigao del Norte on the ground that she held a motorcade right after filing her certificate of candidacy.  

Gordon decried “it is stupid” that an official could lose his or her seat for a measly motorcade when others have million-peso ads, and the only difference is that these officials have not yet filed their certificate of candidacy.     

Ferrer told that “they will take up [Gordon’s] challenge” to have the gray matters in the election code clarified.

When asked if the current election schedule would push back their plan to have the election code amended, Ferrer said they may be able to submit their recommendations to the Senate on or before 2010.

No money?

Meanwhile, the Comelec was tasked to utilize its P1.7 billion carry-over funds from its 2008 budget for the training of teachers on poll automation.

This came after the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) scrapped the proposed P3-billion training budget of the Comelec and advised them instead to use the balance from the P11.3-billion supplemental budget for the automated election system.

The automation contract between the poll body and the consortium of Smartmatic and the Total Information Management Corp. is only worth P7 billion, meaning the Comelec still has P4 billion at its disposal.    

However, Gordon reminded Comelec that under the law appropriating the P11.3-billion funds, the remaining P4 billion could only be used for biometrics registration. He then suggested that Comelec use its continuing appropriations from 2008.

“It could only be used in 2 years. If it is not used, it will revert back to the national treasury,” he said.  

Gordon vowed that he will also back the proposal of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel to have the Sangguniang Kabataan scrapped so that the P168 million allotted to it could be used for the training of teachers.

If the money does indeed come in, the budget for the training will only be P2 billion, less than the proposed P3 billion. But Ferrer said they will be able to identify other sources of funds.