Election lawyer: Schools, watchdogs can help Comelec check candidates' spending

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should tap universities and election watchdogs to audit candidates’ campaign expenditures and check if they complied with election laws, election lawyer Emil Marañon said.

In a recent Rappler Newsbreak Chats on campaign finance spending, Marañon said doing this can help the Comelec countercheck candidates’ spending claims as they are required to submit a Statement of Contribution and Expenditures (SOCE), detailing expenses made for the election campaign period.

“Comelec, I suggest, they can actually work with accounting schools, they can work with universities na hayaan yung mga (and leave the) accounting students to actually do the auditing for them,” Marañon said.

“Election watching doesn't stop after election day…[Election watchdogs] can probably talk with Comelec on how (they) can help in auditing all these SOCEs,” he added.

Marañon, who served as chief of staff of former Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr, said Comelec alone may have difficulty reviewing candidates’ expenses, seeing as some 80,000 to 100,000 were filed after elections. Comelec, he said, also lacked workers who could properly go through all the documents.

This often meant candidates’ SOCE were not cross-checked.

Ang reality naman diyan…Comelec has a vey tiny department in charge diyan… hindi pa mga permanent positions diyan, they will just get lawyers from one department then they will hire contractuals and casuals…wala talagang way yung Comelec to counter check all of these SOCEs,” he said.

(The reality is…Comelec has a very tiny department in charge of that…the positions aren’t permanent there, they will just get lawyers from one department then they will hire contractuals and casuals…there’s no way Comelec can counter check all of these SOCEs.)

Considering these conditions, Marañon said what usually happens is priority is placed on checking for candidates who exceeded campaign spending limits and those who did to submit SOCEs at all.

“But all those who actually filed na below sa limit and then nag file ka naman, under the radar ka na usually hindi nacounter check iyan,” he said. (But all those who actually filed and spent below the limit are under the radar because this usually not counter-checked.)

Why this matters: For Marañon, checking candidates claims over how much they spent for the campaigns could highlight reforms needed to update the campaign finance law, which critics often describe as “unrealistic” as they no longer keep up with current prices. ([OPINION] Is it time to amend the Philippines’ campaign finance law?)

The Philippines campaign finance law, Republic Act 7166, was was passed in 1991.

Aside form this, failing to check candidates’ spending may also embolden them to leave some expenditures undeclared.

Ang nangyayari kasi since hindi na-audit, a lot of candidates are very comfortable with ‘Okay, sige kahit hindi ko i-declare yan…hindi naman ako nahuhuli,’” Marañon said.

(When [SOCEs] are not audited, a lot of candidates are very comfortable with [thinking] ‘It’s okay if don’t declare it…I won’t get caught [anyway].)

“It’s not just a question of expense but what the consequence of that is after election, and how that influences policy,” he added in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com


Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.