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Comelec's hands tied on campaign finance rule, official admits

(Updated 2:45 p.m.) An official from Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday said the poll body has yet to enforce rules limiting the candidates’ spending during campaign period.   “Sa kapal ng libro ng batas, ito ‘yung parte na nai-skip na lang,” said Christian Robert Lim, head of the Comelec’s campaign finance unit (CFU), at a forum at the Ateneo School of Government in Rockwell, Makati.   “The commission was just limited to receive statements of contributions and expenditures (SOCE). But that’s it. In term of enforcement, there’s really no enforcement,” he added.   SOCE refers to reports of expenses incurred for tarpaulins, television advertisements, music jingles, among others, by candidates. It also includes contributions of donors during the election season.   Expensive elections   Ateneo School of Government’s Joy Aceron said the poll body’s failure to monitor campaign finance has resulted in expensive elections in the country.   “We have regulations; there are laws that state the limits. But they are never monitored. These laws are never enforced. As a result, we have very expensive elections,” she said.   She also lamented the fact that only the affluent can afford to run in elections, noting that a candidate would need at least P6 billion to launch a nationwide campaign.   “All of us have the right to vote and to run for office, but you need billions of pesos to actually run for office. That’s the stark reality,” Aceron said.   Boring topic   Asked why the Comelec has not taken campaign finance rules seriously before, Lim said the commissioners – most of them former election lawyers – were usually more preoccupied with vote counting and electoral protests.   “If you look at it, karamihan ng mga commissioners, ano ‘yung mga tinutukan nila – ‘yung mga kaso, ‘yung mga protest, ‘yung actual na eleksyon. It’s not more on the finance part. Karamihan mga lawyers, hindi naman sila mahilig ‘dun. It’s a boring topic,” Lim said.   As a result, election campaign during the 2010 elections has spiraled out of control, he said.   “Walang nangyare. Napabayaan, napabayaan, until you can really look at 2010 medyo grabe na, wild na ang kampanya,” Lim said.   Ad hoc committee   In preparation for the 2013 elections, the poll body has created the CFU as an ad hoc committee in charge with crafting policy on campaign finance.   Comelec Resolution 9476 – promulgated last June – said the CFU is in charge with monitoring fund raising and spending activities, as well as analyzing and auditing SOCE reports.     The resolution also required president and vice president candidates to spend P10 for every registered voter, candidates with political parties to spend P3 each voter, and independent candidates with just P5 per voter.   Lim said the CFU currently has 10 persons, including an accountant and an auditor. The unit, he said, is only limited on crafting policy and is not yet prepared for monitoring.   “We’re borrowing people from different departments. Wala kaming plantilla with that sa campaign finance. So you can’t really have time to dedicate it on all of this (campaign finance),” Lim said.   “It’s too much. Hindi kaya. We only have two Comelec people in each municipality. Ilang positions are running there. So how can you monitor?” he added.   To expand the CFU into a department, Lim said they are looking into the Political Party Development bill, which seeks to create a department of campaign finance and political party.   Lim said clarifying the framework of campaign finance rules is the least they can do to ensure implementation.   “Ang importante sa amin, policy. Malinaw ang policy, malinaw ang rules. So madali siya i-trickle down to our local para maintindihan nila. Sa ngayon hindi nila maintindihan eh,” he said.   One of the rules the poll body plans to do is to tax campaign finance in coordination with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. “If you can trace it and tax it, it makes it more painful for the candidate,” Lim said.   The CFU head also said they are looking into requiring 120 minutes of airtime on a single network, as stated in the Fair Elections Act.   Lim said politicians went beyond the limit because the law says airtime depended on the station, which means they can have commercials on different regional branches throughout the country. Premature campaigning While the Comelec plans to strictly monitor campaign finance, it, however, has no power but to let candidates campaign even outside of the  prescribed campaign period, which is set 90 days before the elections.   This is because Republic Act 9369, or the Automation Law, says a politician officially becomes a candidate only after the campaign period, Lim said.   Thus, the Comelec has the mandate to monitor candidates only during the campaign period, allowing the candidates to campaign even before the prescribed period.   “If you look at the definition, we have no choice. We have to follow what is under RA 9369… That’s our problem: We’re stuck with the law,” Lim said.   He added that the legislators play a big role in allowing premature campaigning. “I think, rather unfortunately, the politicians are the ones making the laws so they are the ones that did away with premature campaigning.”   Commissioner Rene Sarmiento had earlier said Comelec no longer has a definition of premature campaigning due to two Supreme Court rulings.   According to the 2006 decision Lanot vs. Comelec, political promotion done outside the campaign period forms part of the aspirants’ “freedom of expression.” Also, the 2009 decision Peñera vs. Comelec, ruled that elective aspirants can promote themselves before the scheduled campaign period since they are not yet considered candidates at the time.   To resolve this, Lim proposed an amendment on the Automation Law - to make an aspirant a candidate upon filing a certificate of candidacy instead of after the campaign period. — KBK, GMA News
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