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Comelec can't do anything about candidates' billion-peso pre-campaign spending

Commission on Elections chair Andres Bautista said the poll body will not be able to monitor the spending of aspirants to elective posts before the official campaign period amid reports of billion-peso television advertisement spending by some camps.

In a press conference on Tuesday, Bautista said they can only start counting expenditures at the start of the campaign period on Feb. 9.

"There is no law right now that regulates spending because we know that the meter starts running only at the beginning of the campaign period," he said.

He added: "Merong puwang sa batas. Merong butas ang batas."

He maintained that it is up to the voters to judge the said aspirants.

"Nasa mga botante na 'yan kung sa tingin nila sobra ang gastos ng iba. Sila ang dapat magpasya," Bautista said.

He pointed out further: "We cannot monitor... According to the law, campaign expenditures only kick in at the start of the campaign period.

A report by Advertising Information Service of Nielsen Philippines showed that collectively, four popular presidential aspirants — Vice President Jejomar Binay, Sen. Grace Poe, former Interior Sec. Mar Roxas, and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte — spent a total of P1,584,171,342 on television ads from Jan. to Nov. 2015.

Of the four, Binay was top spender with nearly more than P595 million, followed by Poe (P448 million), Roxas (P424 million), and Duterte (P115 million).

Article X, Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code says, "It shall be unlawful for any person, whether or not a voter or candidate, or for any party, or association of persons, to engage in an election campaign or partisan political activity except during the campaign period."

However, the Supreme Court has ruled that one's candidacy becomes official only within the campaign period.

In a 2006 decision on the Lanot vs. Comelec case, the SC said political promotion outside the campaign period forms part of the aspirants' "freedom of expression."

The high court upheld this in a decision in 2009, where it said elective aspirants can promote themselves before the campaign period since they are not yet considered candidates at the time. —JST, GMA News