MANILA, Philippines - Adhering to the Aquino administration’s vow to pursue electoral reforms, Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II yesterday said he is committed to implement the order of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to remove local officials who won in the May 2013 midterm polls but failed to submit their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) within the deadline and in the prescribed form.
Roxas said the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) is preparing appropriate legal directives after receiving a copy of the Comelec order.
“The DILG is committed to implement the law in an appropriate manner,” Roxas said in a statement.
Of the 422 officials ordered removed by the Comelec, 20 are congressmen, including Gloria Arroyo of Pampanga and Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa, while four are governors, namely Rosa Vilma Santos-Recto of Batangas, Ryan Luis Singson of Ilocos Sur, Amado Espino of Pangasinan and Emilio Ramon Ejercito of Laguna.
Ejercito is also facing disqualification for overspending in the elections last May.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said under the Synchronized Elections Law, elected officials who did not comply with the SOCE requirements should stay out of office until they have submitted the necessary documents.
The SOCE is a report of candidates on their donors and expenditures during the campaign and poll period.
All candidates and political parties are required to file with the Comelec full, true and itemized SOCEs within 30 days after election day.
Several of the local government officials who reportedly failed to file their SOCE claimed that they were able to meet the requirements and were even issued Certificates of Compliance by the Comelec.
Biazon said he filed the document on June 3 this year and received a certificate of compliance from the local election officer identified as lawyer Dinah Valencia.
“If there are indeed new requirements, I will comply,” Biazon said in a telephone interview.
The chief of staff of Manila Rep. Ma. Theresa Bonoan has also denied that the lawmaker did not file her SOCE.
In a letter to Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, head of the Comelec’s finance unit, Anna Lourdes Feliciano said Bonoan filed her SOCE on June 7 that was duly received by the poll body.
“We were among the first to submit and comply with the mandate of the law,” Feliciano said.
Bulacan Gov. Wilhelmino Alvarado said the SOCE of his wife, Rep. Marivic Alvarado, might have been misplaced.
“It is impossible that she failed to submit her SOCE because she and I prepared our SOCEs and submitted them on time,” Alvarado said.
Pasay City government spokesman Jonathan Malaya said Pasay Mayor Antonino Calixto also filed his SOCE immediately after the elections last May through his lawyer.
The provincial election supervisor of Pangasinan sent a letter yesterday to the Comelec main office in Manila to clarify that Espino filed his SOCE.
Lawyer Marino Salas said he does not know the basis of Comelec in saying that Espino failed to submit his campaign expense report.
Salas said based on their record, Espino filed his SOCE on June 10 at 3:40 p.m.
“I do not know if it was lost in Manila or whatever the problem was,” Salas said.
Geraldine Baniqued, provincial legal officer of Pangasinan, said Espino’s SOCE was sent through JRS mail courier to Comelec Manila on June 21.
“We were wondering why Gov. Espino’s SOCE was missing when the documents of all the other Pangasinan bets were sent in bundle,” Baniqued said.
She said the SOCEs were received by two offices of Comelec-Manila – the Election Records and Statistics Department and the Law Department.
“There were two offices which received the SOCE. So in case it was lost in one office, another office should have a copy,” she said.
Gov. Singson, for his part, blamed the poll body for giving him and his brother – Rep. Ronald Singson – wrong SOCE forms which they filled out.
Gov. Singson cited records from the Ilocos Sur’s Comelec provincial office showing he received a certificate of compliance on June 11.
“We are very much willing to comply with any rules prescribed by the Comelec but this time the agency did not properly inform us about the changes in their forms for SOCE. Thus, it is not our fault,” he said.
Singson appealed to the poll body to closely coordinate with their local units so as not to repeat the incident.
“The Comelec ought to shape up before making bold allegations with no basis at all,” the governor said.
He said the poll body is operating on an “outdated system” that “they could not properly verify those who filed or did not file their SOCE.”
“I personally think the Comelec should upgrade and computerize their system because it seems they do everything manually so they are not able to verify,” he said.
Reacting to the claims of the affected government officials, Brillantes said that merely filing the SOCE within the deadline is not enough to be considered as compliance.
Brillantes said the certificates issued to some of the officials only pertained to “compliance of submission.”
“Submission is different from legitimate filing. Let’s see if they complied in form. Did they sign the documents?” he said.
Based on Comelec’s records, Santos-Recto and Biazon “did not personally sign” their SOCEs so the documents are “deemed as not filed,” while Espino “did not submit” the requirement.
Brillantes said the Comelec came up with a resolution two years ago setting guidelines on the prescribed form for the SOCE.
He said it was the same policy that the Comelec implemented when the senatorial bets in the 2013 polls filed their SOCEs.
“If the senators complied, why can’t they comply? Why is it that they are complaining now? We have been open about this,” Brillantes said.
‘Comply or else…’
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. is giving 20 colleagues until Monday to comply with the requirement for the filing of SOCE.
If they still fail to comply, Belmonte said he would do what the Comelec asked him to do: to request the erring lawmakers to temporarily vacate their posts.
However, Belmonte said he was confident that his colleagues would be able to do what is necessary on or before Monday.
He said only three of the 20 were alleged to have failed to file anything, while the rest either did not sign the required statement personally or used a different form.
He added that when contacted, the three denied their alleged failure to comply with the filing requirement.
“I think it was really just a technicality,” he said.
Imprisonment as punishment
The Comelec yesterday said if it will have its way, it wants those who do not comply with the requirements on campaign finance disclosure jailed.
In an ambush interview, Brillantes challenged Congress to once again criminalize violations of the SOCE requirements.
“My proposal is for Congress to make the non-filing of valid SOCE an election offense again so that we can send them to jail. The problem is since it has been decriminalized by Congress, many losing and winning bets have become relaxed and non-compliant,” Brillantes said.
Asked why the legislators did this, he replied: “I don’t know. Maybe they wanted to extricate themselves (from criminal liability).”
Election Code review
Meanwhile, the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms is set to review the Omnibus Election Code and other regulations on campaign spending to make the law more relevant, Belmonte said.
“I think one of the laws that we ought to be passing here is an updating of the law that requires the filing of SOCEs,” Belmonte told reporters.
“Because there are limits on how much you can spend and the limits are so ridiculous that it’s very hard to believe that that is all people are spending during the electoral campaign. I asked that it be studied after I got that letter,” he said.
“Maybe we can increase the limits on spending to be more realistic and so that when you see it you will know that it is probably the right – the correct expense of the campaign,” he said.
The Speaker said the spending limits are outdated and “I think everybody, all people seeking office, probably would welcome that.”
“It’s not a relaxation of anything but a more realistic statement of what are the expenses, what should be the limit of one’s campaign expenses,” Belmonte said.
Aside from the filing of SOCEs, the poll body also sets limits on campaign spending with senatorial, congressional and other local candidates registered under a political party allowed to spend only P3 for every voter, while independent candidates are only authorized to spend P5 for every registered voter. Political parties and party-list groups are allowed to spend only P5 for every voter in their constituency. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Mike Frialde, Dino Balabo, Paolo Romero, Eva Visperas, Jess Diaz, Artemio Dumlao, Teddy Molina