Probe Aquino ‘giveaways,’ Comelec asked

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
But the Palace denies using Philhealth cards to campaign for its senatorial bets

ILLEGAL CAMPAIGNING? Groups accuse President Benigno Aquino III of using government funds to push for the administration's senatorial bets. Photo by Gil Nartea/Malacañang Photo Bureau

MANILA, Philippines – Activists filed an appeal before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday, February 20, to investigate President Benigno Aquino III over his alleged use of government funds to campaign for the administration ticket.

Aquino, through his local allies, allegedly distributed Philhealth cards and 3 kilos of rice to indigent residents last Thursday, February 14. Publishing a statement from Philhealth, the Palace earlier denied the claim that it uses the national health insurance program for the administration’s campaign.

In their letter to Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr, however, the activists blasted Aquino for his “super roadshow political campaign since the start of the campaign season.” They particularly called attention to the supposed distribution of Philhealth cards and rice in Loon, Bohol, on the same day that the opposition group United Nationalist Alliance was holding its Bohol sortie.

“While there is nothing wrong with the distribution of Philhealth cards to our poor people and indigent folks, the distribution should have been done several months ahead of the election period… and the distribution of such medical assistance should have been done by publich health officials on ordinary days and not by the President and his allies currently on the campaign trail,” the groups said.

Those who signed the letter included Fernando Hicap, vice chairperson of party-list group Anakpawis; Salvador France, vice chairperson of Pamalakaya; Pedro Gonzalez, chairperson of Pamalakaya-Southern Tagalog; and Rodel Mesa, secretary general of the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura.

‘No Philhealth cards’

In a statement last Thursday, Philhealth said this allegation “is grossly inaccurate.”

Quoting its regional office, Philhealth said the cards distributed “were local government-initiated health cards.” It only so happened that the local government units distributed these cards to existing Philhealth members in these places, Philhealth said in a statement posted on the Office of the President’s website.

Health Secretary Enrique Ona, who also serves as Philhealth’s officer in charge, however said they “will still investigate such report.” “And if indeed, a PhilHealth employee is involved, we will immediately file appropriate administrative and criminal charges before the Comelec for election-related violations,” Ona said.

The Omnibus Election Code, under Section 261 (o), prohibits the “use of public funds, money deposited in trust, equipment, and facilities owned or controlled by the government for an election campaign.”

For Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr, however, the law doesn’t mean the government should stop delivering services such as those from Philhealth.

Ibig sabihin ‘pag kampanya titigil ka? Bakit n’yo ihihinto ‘yan?” Brillantes said in an interview. (Does it mean they have to stop just because it’s the campaign period? Why do they have to stop it?)

Since the national campaign period began last February 12, the Comelec has vowed to keep a close watch on campaign violations. On Tuesday, February 19, Brillantes said it may disqualify an administration bet over an allegedly prohibited Twitter game, which involves an iPad as the grand prize. (Watch more in the video below.)

Madrigal’s lawyer on Wednesday said the former senator has apologized to the Comelec over this. She also assured the Comelec and the public “that it will never happen again,” said the Liberal Party (@LiberalPH) through its official Twitter account. –

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email