MANILA , Philippines – A more realistic cap on campaign spending should be enforced by 2016 to prevent candidates from untruthfully declaring election expenses, said Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim in a forum on campaign finance Wednesday, June 26.
Election players have long been pointing out how unrealistic the maximum allowable campaign expenses have been. Republic 7166 or the Synchronized National and Local Elections Law, which was introduced in 1991, sets the following spending caps for candidates and political parties:
According to Lim, the system fails to take into account changes in money value and the rate of inflation, adding that this is “something Congress has yet to address.”
"Gusto namin yung candidates, mas truthful sila sa declarations nila. Kasi ang nangyayari ngayon, dahil unrealistic, ina-underdeclare nila yanor they will resort to pre-campaign spending," he said in an interview after his speech at the event organized by election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections at the Ateneo Professional Schools in Makati City.
(We want candidates to be more truthful in their declarations. Because what happens right now, they underdeclare or they resort to pre-campaign spending.)
Lim said local officials are especially negatively affected by the system, citing the case of a coastal municipality in Palawan with a population of less than 300.
Even assuming all 300 locals are voters, a mayoral candidate in Kalayaan, Palawan, will only be allowed to spend P6,000 for his campaign.
After verbally computing, Lim asked, “How can you expect to campaign with that money?”
He added that a ceiling on campaign contributions should also be in place. While there are campaign expenditure limits in the Philippines, there aren’t any limits on campaign contributions.
This, according to Lim, poses a problem as candidates could easily launder money if they receive campaign contributions greater than their actual expenditure that is limited by law.
Ideally, he said, the poll contributions cap should equal to the spending limit so abuses can be prevented.
Among senatorial candidates in 2013, for example, 5 declared excess campaign funds.
Need for separate department
To facilitate the reforms on campaign finance, the creation of a separate campaign finance department under Comelec will be needed.
For the 2013 polls, Comelec introduced through Resolution 9476 a campaign finance unit (CFU). However, an official and permanent department can only be created through legislation by Congress.
According to Lim, who currently heads the CFU, a separate department will allow them to receive an allotment from the national budget.
The department, said Lim, will take care of monitoring election expenditures and the flow of money beyond the election season. This will enable Comelec to track excessive and prohibited poll contributions.
“Sa akin lang, campaign finance, hindi lang siya limited sa elections. Maraming reforms sa financial system natin. Meaning, kailangan ma-track. Marami na kasi loose money moving around," explained Lim, saying it was “strange” not to see “big” names from the corporate sector in the campaign statements declared by candidates.
(For me, campaign finance is not limited to elections. Many reforms in our financial system [are needed]. Meaning, we need to track [the money]. There’s a lot of lose money moving around.)
If created, the department will also be tasked to facilitate in monitoring and prosecuting of vote buyers and sellers.
Limited policing power
Asked if it is likely for congressmen to pursue reforms such as a contributions cap that will directly affect these legislators should they run in 2016, Lim said the chances are slim but he is hopeful.
“Well, ang chances hindi, pero gusto ko pa rin umasa. Sa 'kin kasi, kung maging adjusted 'yung spending limits, maging realistic siya, baka puede na,” said the election commissioner. (Well, most likely not, but I am still hoping. For me, if spending limits are adjusted to become more realistic, maybe it can be done.)
In status quo, compliance with campaign finance laws rely mostly on disclosure statements submitted by candidates to the Comelec.
Ideally, no official should be allowed to assume office without a duly submitted statement of contributions and expenses (SOCE). This is in effect.
Failure to submit the SOCE in the form and content mandated by Comelec is considered an administrative offense under RA 7166. Candidates are imposed with corresponding penalties.
This mechanism, however, is limited by the commission’s inability to prevent non-complying senatorial and congressional candidates to assume office.
Comelec will be creating a list of candidates who failed to comply with the disclosure and will be forwarding the same to the Senate President.
"Kung papagayan ng Senate President, wala kami magagawa," Lim said. (If the Senate President will allow them to assume office, we cannot do anything about it.) – Rappler.com