Budget Watch

Want truthful reports? Raise campaign spending limits, poll observers say

Dwight de Leon
Want truthful reports? Raise campaign spending limits, poll observers say

CAMPAIGN SPENDING. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism presents data on political advertising during the May 2022 elections, at the Pera at Pulitika forum in Intramuros, Manila on July 21, 2022.


Campaign spending limits are based on a 1991 law, which poll watchdogs insist are no longer applicable today

MANILA, Philippines – It’s “high time” to raise the campaign spending limits for candidates, advocates for clean elections said.

This was their reaction to a research conducted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), which showed national candidates appeared in campaign ads worth much more than what they declared in their statements of contribution and expenditures (SOCE) filed with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) after the 2022 polls.

“I suggested that the expenditure limit be raised to a higher level to make sure candidates report [accurately]. We want them to be more honest in their reporting, because we might be more interested in what they have to report than force them to comply with an expenditure limit that may not be realistic now,” former poll commissioner Luie Guia said during PCIJ’s forum on campaign ad spending on Thursday, July 21.

For decades, candidates have been adhering to Republic Act No. 7166, a 1991 law that says presidential and vice presidential aspirants can only spend P10 for every voter. For local candidates, it’s P3 for every voter registered in the place where they filed their candidacy.

Taking inflation into account, the limits set by the 1991 law no longer make sense, Guia said.

Other panel participants – namely Dr. Arwin Serrano of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), Paolo Maligaya of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), and Ona Caritos of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) – backed calls to raise the spending limit.

PANEL. Former Comelec commissioner Luie Guia, Lente’s Ona Caritos, Namfrel’s Paolo Maligaya, and PPCRV’s Arwin Serrano weigh in on PCIJ’s data on campaign ad spending.

Lawmakers in past congresses pushed to do just that, but the bills seeking the reform weren’t passed.

In the 18th Congress, a measure passed by the House sought to increase the spending limit per voter for presidential and vice presidential candidates, from P10 to P50, among others.

They also sought to add a provision that would allow the Comelec to adjust authorized election campaign expenses based on inflation, in consultation with other government agencies.

That bill was transmitted to the Senate, but languished in its electoral reforms panel, according to the Senate website.

Set a contribution limit also?

Watchdogs also floated the possibility of putting a contribution limit for candidates’ campaigns.

“It should not be allowed that only a few people bankroll the campaigns of politicians,” Lente’s Caritos said.

“Why are big business interests and personalities putting their money in elections to support particular candidates?” Guia also asked. “Sometimes, you can look at political donations as venture capitalism. It’s like an investment where big returns are expected.”

The Comelec has not yet released a full copy of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s SOCE, which will identify his top donors. But in 2016, P334 million out of the P375 million that then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte raised for his presidential campaign came from only 13 donors, contradicting his narrative that he supposedly ran on a shoestring budget.

PCIJ’s report on Wednesday zeroed in on its findings based on data it acquired from Nielsen Ad Intel on television, radio, print, and billboards spending.

Want truthful reports? Raise campaign spending limits, poll observers say

Defeated presidential aspirant and former vice president Leni Robredo appeared in campaign ads worth P1.15 billion during the 90-day campaign period, the highest among candidates for national elective posts for the 2022 elections.

Three other candidates appeared in ads exceeding P1 billion pesos from February 9 to May 7, the official campaign period for national positions. They were now-senator Mark Villar (P1.13 billion), Marcos Jr. (P1.09 billion), and reelected senator Joel Villanueva (P1.05 billion).

The PCIJ, however, clarified that the numbers presented were based on published rate cards, so it was likely that the candidates’ actual expenditures may be lower, “especially if there were discounts for candidates during the official campaign period.” – Rappler.com

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers local government units and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.