Comelec to bets: Monitor expenses

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - With the campaign period for national positions set to start Tuesday, candidates should monitor well their propaganda expenditures as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) vowed to go after violators of the rules on campaign spending.

“The start of the campaign period also marks the start of the regulation of campaign propaganda and the accounting of campaign expenditure,” Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes posted on his Twitter account yesterday.

Brillantes said many candidates have been abusing the lack of laws on premature campaigning, so this time the poll body is bent on strictly implementing the election policies.

The Supreme Court (SC) decriminalized electioneering in November 2009, in a ruling on the case of Sta. Monica, Surigao del Norte Mayor Rosalinda Penera.

Penera was charged with premature campaigning for holding a motorcade right after filing her certificate of candidacy on March 29, 2007 for that year’s election. The campaign period started the following day, and the court dismissed the charges against her.

Brillantes warned that violators of campaign rules – like the size and location of propaganda materials – will face “criminal liability” tantamount to an election offense punishable with up to six years imprisonment, and disqualification from holding public office.

“Thus I urge candidates to read and study all pertinent rules and regulation regarding campaign and expense monitoring to avoid surprises,” he said.

Apart from the size and location of campaign posters and streamers, the Comelec will strictly implement the rule requiring both winning and losing candidates to submit their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) within 30 days after election day.

The poll body also shortened the airtime allocation for each candidate, which drew protests from the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and GMA Network. Both media organizations filed separate petitions before the SC, questioning the policy.

Brillantes lambasted critics of the airtime limits for allegedly sugarcoating their arguments with public interest.

“The issue on airtime limits should not be obfuscated with the freedom of speech/press when the real issue of these media entities is revenue,” he said.

Last month, the Comelec issued Resolution 9615 setting the implementing rules and regulations of the Fair Elections Act. It ruled that all parties and bona fide candidates should have the right to reply to charges against them. The reply should be given publicity by the newspaper, television and radio stations, which first printed or aired the charges.

The resolution also provided an aggregate airtime allotment for each candidate of 120 minutes and 180 minutes for all radio and television networks, respectively.

In the 2010 polls, these airtime limits were allotted for each radio and television station.

Brillantes said the airtime limits were originally being computed not on per broadcast station basis. But during the 2004 polls, the Comelec redefined the rules to apparently favor presidential candidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

“So we are just reverting back to the original computation. We are now implementing it based on its original interpretation,” he said.

He said that for the Comelec “ensuring equal opportunity among candidates is a matter of public interest, far more important than the business interest of these networks.”

“Even the candidates did not question the regulation of airtime limits. Then why should the ‘medium’ of speech complain for the candidates?” he asked.

Candidates for senator and party-list can start campaigning on Tuesday, while for those seeking local positions originally on March 29. But since this falls on Good Friday, the Comelec moved it to March 30. The campaign period ends on May 11.

GMA questions airtime limit

Broadcast company GMA Network has asked the Supreme Court to stop the Comelec from implementing the shortened airtime limits for candidates.

In seeking the issuance of a temporary restraining order, GMA Network asked the SC to declare “null and void” the “controversial provisions” in Comelec Resolution 9615.

The network argued that the “consequent damage” that the new rules may cause is “clear, widespread, and irreparable.”

It invoked “the need of the voting public to be effectively and adequately informed.”

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