MANILA (UPDATED) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should regulate not just campaign spending but also the content of official social media platforms of candidates and party-list groups running for the May 13, 2019 elections.
“What happens is that you require candidates in the monitoring, to allow Comelec access to your platform, dashboard,” said former poll commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal on ANC’s Early Edition on Thursday morning.
But with the spread of fake news and disinformation online, Larrazabal pointed out a much more important concern that should also be monitored by the poll body.
“I am more concerned about monitoring content because there's a lot of disinformation now for or against particular candidates. If you focus on that, I think that would have more tangible results as compared to just monitoring of expenses,” he said.
Similar to what was done last year by social networking site, Facebook, when it partnered with Rappler and Vera Files for a third-party fact-checking program in the Philippines, Comelec can also deputize organizations to do the same.
“Comelec simply deputizes organizations who have been doing it, doing it well, they do the work for Comelec. It can be done. They would be acting as agents of Comelec,” he said.
He also noted that while social media, particularly Facebook, plays an influence on the campaign, one good thing about it is that people are more engaged now in calling out fake news.
“How important is Facebook? It may be a factor in national elections but local, its still boots on the ground. It’s still candidates shaking the hands of people or doing whatever it needs to have a personal interaction with voters,” he said.
But as to whether Facebook or any other social media platform is a more effective tool in campaigning, Larrazabal believes that it is still traditional media.
“If you want to campaign effectively, still use traditional media,” he suggested.
REVIEW OMNIBUS ELECTION CODE
Larrazabal also called on Congress to review and revise the ‘decades-old’ Omnibus Election Code.
“I think it’s about time for Congress to look at and revise the Omnibus Election Code, not only reviewing the prohibitions but also reviewing the spending limits,” he said.
Larrazabal said candidates underdeclare their campaign expenses with the current spending limits.
“A campaign spending limit of P50-P100 per voter, that makes it more realistic,” he said.
Aside from increasing the spending limit, Larrazabal also pointed out the need to immediately consider a person a candidate once he files his Certificate of Candidacy (COC).
“So the expense limit monitoring starts from the filing of the COC,” he said.
Comelec set the election period from January 13 to June 12.
“They can't officially campaign, but under RA 9369, they're not considered yet as candidates for purposes of premature campaigning until the start of the campaign period,” he explained.
The campaign period for candidates for the Senate and party-list groups will be from February 12 to May 11, with campaigning prohibited on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
The campaign period for candidates for the House of Representatives and local positions will be from March 30 to May 11.
“The advantage here [for the candidates] is whatever expenses you have or incur before the start of the campaign period, that's not part of your official campaign expenses so you're not required to include that in your Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE),” he said.