When the presidential candidates were asked, during the debate on CNN Philippines, who among them “agree that unused campaign funds should be returned to the donors,” I felt finally rewarded – it was one question I’d been waiting to be asked them.
It raises no threat of legal penalty for the wrong answer; it is, rather, a test of character, which I propose, along with track record, as the first standard that should be applied in choosing the president, instead of those platforms of government that can be easily manufactured and too often end up only lip-served.
I’d have formulated the question differently, though, thus: What would you do with unspent campaign donations? That should elicit a more revealing answer, as does a school test question that calls for an explanatory essay for an answer, not a mere choice from a supplied set of choices or, even less usefully, a choice between yes and no. But I do understand that a television debate with multiple debaters has to be tightly time-bound.
All candidates, in any case, agreed that the money should be returned, except one – Isko Moreno Domagoso. It was he, in fact, who had inspired the question. He had come to the debate with a forced hand, having declared in an earlier news interview pocketing the P50 million left unspent from the donations for his mayoral run in 2019.
One candidate, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., escaped being asked – he was absent; he in fact avoids these debates. Indeed, what does he care? The question may not even be relevant in his case: with the huge fortune his family amassed, by plunder, during his father’s dictatorial presidency, he should be able, easily, to spend for his own campaign. And, coming from a family of self-entitled and well-practiced appropriators, he cannot be expected to return anything.
Actually, unspent donations may be kept as personal earnings, provided that the corresponding income tax is paid which, in Domagoso’s case, came to P9 million. Conceivably, to some extent, it is a practice among candidates. As a rule, however, those who do practice it understandably prefer to keep the matter between them and the taxman, or, in any case, as private as possible; after all, although perfectly legal, it is not exactly the nice thing to do.
But then, apparently, Domagoso saw some political advantage in publicizing his case. He promoted himself as honest taxpayer, as if he were a shining exception, at the same time having an allusive but unmistakable and not altogether undeserved dig at a strong rival – Marcos.
Despite repeated internal revenue demands, Marcos himself has refused to pay taxes, amounting to hundreds of millions of pesos. The case actually raises an incidental but more basic question: Does any of the money on which the taxes have been assessed form part of the Marcos plunder, estimated at $10 billion in total, and now claimed by Ferdinand Jr. as legitimate inheritance?
Anyhow, here lies what seems to me a superficial cleverness in Domagoso’s tactic: he has chosen to compare himself with a decidedly disreputable character to distract from his own flaws, his own opportunism in this particular instance. So, keep your eye on the ball, and the ball is not the P9 million Domagoso put in the treasury, but the P50 million he put in his pocket. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is a mere distraction, Isko Moreno Domagoso is the issue.
I’ve heard the excuse that it’s difficult to determine how to prorate the reimbursements because expenses from donations are not always tracked to their specific donors. But why bother at all with the donors? Doubtless fully aware of the nature of the deals they have got themselves into, none of them should expect to be reimbursed. Paid back by their victorious bets with favors, yes, but reimbursed?
An alternative, of course, is to give the money to charity. That, of all candidates, Domagoso missed such an obvious, noble choice makes him a fraudulent champion of the poor. Oh, how he likes proclaiming common cause with them by virtue of common experience! But that’s in the long past; he is definitely poor no more, not by virtue of common cause, not by virtue of common experience, not by virtue of net worth – not by virtue period.
He has done too well at raising himself from poverty to comfort, and done so with apparently little regard for scruples, to be credible as the champion he advertises himself to be. And, whether he wins the election or not, he’s likely to fare better yet, likely, by the formula of political proportions, to swell his net worth by a greater measure after running for president than after running for mayor.
And if he wins in May as president he will be made dizzy by further, richer, and endless prospects for appropriation. – Rappler.com