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11 days to E-Day: Elections for sale

Many people were talking about money Thursday as the campaign period dwindled to 11 days. An independent survey showed many Filipinos expect rampant vote-buying this election while a non-government organization disclosed the spending habits of senatorial candidates. In a disturbing trend, seven of 10 registered Filipino voters believe vote-buying will "definitely happen" or "probably will happen" in the May 2007 elections. This was one of the highlights of the Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey on election reform, which was conducted April 14 to 17. "Expectations of voting irregularities this year are markedly higher compared to previous campaigns in 2004, 2001 and 1992," SWS said. While only 30 percent think that vote-buying will "probably not happen" or "definitely not happen," voters also believe other forms of irregularities will take place. Belief in the probability of vote-buying happening in their locality is highest in Visayas (74%), followed by Mindanao (68%), Balance of Luzon (68%), and NCR (67%). There is also slightly higher expectation of vote-buying among urban residents (73%) than among rural residents (67%). Those with higher education are more likely to believe that vote-buying will happen in their place during the upcoming elections. About three of four with at least a college degree (75%), and those with a high school education (74%) expect vote-buying to occur. In contrast, voters with an elementary education (63%) or even less formal schooling (63%) are less likely to expect vote-buying. On the other hand, half of voters think it is not bad to accept money from candidates. "Half (50%) of the voters agree, whereas 32% disagree, that in an election, it is not bad to accept money provided one votes according to one's conscience," SWS said, adding 16% are undecided. Such a trend remained steady from January 2004 when 49% agreed after a significant drop from April 2001 when 58% agreed with the statement. Implicit approval of accepting money is slightly higher in rural areas, where 56 percent express agreement, than in urban areas where agreement is 43 percent. By area, it is 54 percent in Visayas; 51 percent in Mindanao; 49 percent in Balance Luzon, and 45 percent in Metro Manila. Those who agree that it is not bad to accept money in an election are more likely to expect vote-buying in this coming election. Among those who agree that it is acceptable to take money from campaigns, 74 percent expect vote-buying, as compared to 63 percent among those who think it is bad to accept money. Expectation of cheating in the counting and flying voters was highest in Metro Manila as compared to all other areas. Two-thirds of NCR voters (66%) expect cheating to occur in the counting of votes, including dagdag-bawas. In Balance Luzon it is 56 percent, in Visayas 37 percent, and in Mindanao 53 percent. Two-thirds of NCR voters believe that flying voters will likely happen in their place (66%), 17 percentage points higher than in Balance Luzon (49%). Expectation of flying voters is 30 percent in Visayas and 44 percent in Mindanao. More urban voters (60%) think that dagdag-bawas is likely to happen this election than rural voters (47%). Fifty-seven percent of those in urban areas expect flying voters in their place; in rural areas only 38 percent think the same. Expectation of voter harassment is highest in Mindanao, where 45 percent say that harassment of voters is definitely or probably going to happen in their place. The expectations in other areas are lower, with 37 percent in NCR and in Balance Luzon, and 35 percent in Visayas believing that voters will experience harassment in their place. The SWS April 2007 Pre-election Survey was conducted over April 14-17, using face-to-face interviews of 1,200 adults divided into random samples of 300 each in Metro Manila, the Balance of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It included a module on electoral reform sponsored by The Asia Foundation. Forthcoming SWS surveys will continue to track public sentiment on issues relevant to the electoral process. TU overspends Team Unity senatorial candidates’ combined campaign expenses reached P919 million from February 13 to May 1 while their rivals in the Genuine Opposition shelled out a total of P519 million for the same period, a group of non-government organizations monitoring poll spending said Thursday. Vincent Lazatin, co-convenor of Pera’t Pulitika Working Group, said TU candidates are spending almost twice as much as GO bets who are lording over in recent independent surveys. Of the 12 frontrunners in advertisement spending, nine are TU bets. They are Prospero Pichay, Joker Arroyo, Edgardo Angara, Michael Defensor, Vicente “Tito" Sotto III, Teresa Aquino Oreta, Miguel Zubiri, Ralph Recto and Luis “Chavit" Singson. The biggest GO spenders are Manuel Villar, Loren Legarda and Panfilo Lacson. Among the biggest TU spenders, only Arroyo, Angara, Sotto and Zubiri have made it to the surveys but they failed to land in the top 5. On the other hand, GO biggest spenders are consistent survey top notchers. The other candidates who made it to the Magic 12 in the surveys are independent candidates Francis Pangilinan and Gregorio Honasan and GO bets Francis Escudero, Alan Peter Cayetano, Benigno “Noynoy" Aquino III and Aquilino “Koko" Pimentel III. In April, TU candidates fared poorly in the Social Weather Stations survey, prompting Malacañang officials to accuse the independent polling firm of conniving with GO to conduct misleading and slanted surveys. According to the group, Pichay has already spent P152 million, Villar P138 million, Arroyo P133 million, Legarda P99 million, Angara P98 million, Defensor P88 million, Sotto P83 million, Oreta P80 million, Recto P74 million, Zubiri P65 million, Lacson P63.69 million and Singson P 63.65 million. The candidates who are making it to the surveys but do not spend as much on their campaign were Honasan with P7 million total ad expenditure; Cayetano, P21 million; Pimentel, P33 million; Aquino, 44 million; Escudero, P50 million; Pangilinan, P54 million. TU coughed up P820 million for TV ads and GO spent P433 million. The administration ticket spent some P7 million on print ads while the opposition party spent P2 million for it. TU shelled out P93 million for radio advertisement and GO, P84 million. Candidates are only allowed by law to spend P3 per voter during the campaign period or roughly P135 million for the 45 million registered voters in the country. “It does worry us why a candidate spends much for a position with a P35,000 salary per month. You have to be a senator for more than a hundred years just to recover the expenditures. Where will they get the money," Lazatin said. The group expects the campaign expenses to increase in the last two weeks of the campaign. Lazatin said his group will not be filing a case against candidates who will violate the spending cap but will suggest measures to make candidates comply with the election code. “Maybe we can suggest the adjustment of campaign spending limits. The P3 limit per registered voter dates back a decade ago," he said. He added his group also wants the Comelec to clarify its policy on the allowable airtime to candidates, which has been subject to different interpretations since the beginning of the campaign. He said candidates are allowed 120 minutes of exposure per region for TV ads or a total of 1,800 minutes in 15 regions and 180 minutes radio airtime per region or a total of 2,700 nationwide. JIL endorses bets The charismatic Jesus Is Lord (JIL) Movement on Thursday endorsed a fresh batch of opposition and independent candidates for the upcoming polls, but still kept out of its list all 12 candidates of the administration Team Unity ticket. Radio station dzBB said JIL spiritual leader Bro. Eddie Villanueva has given his nod to the candidacies of Genuine Opposition (GO) bets former Sen. Loren Legarda, Tarlac Rep. Benigno Simeon Aquino III and Aquilino Pimentel III and independent candidate Sen. Francis Pangilinan. Villanueva made the announcement during a press briefing at the Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan. His Bangon Pilipinas party, the Philippines for Jesus Movement, and the Intercessors of the Philippines will also back the candidacies of the senatorial bets. The religious group claims to have a membership of three million around the Philippines, excluding its chapters among overseas Filipino workers in other countries. Other GO bets Senators Panfilo Lacson and Manuel Villar as well as Congressmen Alan Peter Cayetano and Francis Escudero have also gained the JIL's endorsement. Villanueva earlier said the endorsed candidates lived up to JIL principles, namely: God-fearing, competent, integrity, courage, patriotism and lives a principled existence. He had also asked the four candidates to sign a covenant wherein they commit to push for JIL's advocacies in the Senate. Their commitments under the covenant include: God before others, upliftment of the poor and repressed, fight corruption in government, and fulfilling responsibilities under their constitutional mandate. Also in the covenant is the candidates' commitment to block the gambling mega-center along Roxas Boulevard planned by Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (Pagcor). Villanueva has remained a key critic of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's rule since losing to her in the 2004 presidential race. Other candidates earlier reported to have sought an audience with Villanueva are Team Unity candidates Sen. Edgardo Angara and former Senators Vicente Sotto III, and Tessie Aquino-Oreta. Comelec will just monitor, not ban, cell phones Cell phones won't be banned inside precincts, but election watchers will keep tabs on their owners to make sure they won't be used for cheating. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) made this clarification Thursday as the multi-sectoral Black and White Movement (BWM) formally questioned regulations on the use of cell phones inside voting precincts on Election Day. "We cannot ban voters from bringing in cell phones inside voting precincts. But what we will ban is the use of cell phone cameras to take a photo of one's own ballot ... Surely if you take a photo of your ballot, what would be your purpose?" Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos said in Filipino during an interview on dzXL radio. However, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, in a separate interview on dzBB radio, said it will be up to the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI) to make judgments whether or not to allow election watchers to take photos with their cell phone cameras for "documentation" purposes. "The directive to the BEI is clear. The purpose of the prohibition is to prevent cell phone cameras from being used for vote-buying," he said. He warned against allowing voters to capture digital images of completed ballots, saying these might be used as "receipts" to claim bribe money from dirty politicians. Jimenez said BEI members have instructions to approach cell phone users taking photos of their ballots, and to politely ask them to set their gadget aside. He also said election watchers will get the same treatment. He said BEI members are authorized to sanction "disruptive" watchers, including ordering them to leave the polling precinct. For his part, Abalos said election watchers will also guard voters against using their cell phones to chat while inside voting precincts, saying this may distract other voters. "If the call is urgent, it's acceptable. But if you use it for small talk or chatting, you might be disturbing other voters," he said. BWM convenor Leah Navarro on Thursday told dzBB radio that she and her colleagues wanted to clarify with the Comelec what specific guidelines would be imposed on cell phone use on May 14. Navarro noted that cell phone cameras can be tools to fight poll cheating instead of these being used for fraud. Meanwhile, the Comelec opened Thursday its Special Action Center that will handle complaints from candidates of cheating and character assassination. Jimenez said the center will be at the new Comelec offices at the Palacio del Gobernador in Manila's Intramuros district. He said it will take complaints from its hotlines and the Internet. Comelec will pick areas to put under its control Left with little time left and swamped with areas of concern to watch, the Commission on Elections has given its commissioners free rein to declare areas to be placed under Comelec control. Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. said Thursday the Comelec en banc will then confirm the decision of the commissioner-in-charge later on. "Binigyan natin ng authority ang commissioners-in-charge, ang mga may hawak ng region na mag-assess at sa sarili nila pwedeng ideklara under Comelec control to be confirmed later on by en banc. Kung en banc pa magbibista rito at mag-iimbita sa lahat tapos na dapat gamutin di pa nakapagdeklara," Abalos said in an interview on dzXL radio. (I have authorized the commissioners-in-charge in regions to assess and decide whether to place areas under Comelec control. The Comelec en banc will confirm those decisions later on. If we examine each of them, the elections may already be over and we may still not be finished examining the cases.) He said his decision stemmed from a command conference Wednesday where the Comelec regional directors made last assessments of preparation and delivery of election materials. The chairman said he was baffled by the long list of areas of concern, many of which were recommended placed under Comelec control. "Ako nagtaka rin dahil napakaraming submit na areas of concern. Ito minamatyagang mabuti, sabi nila medyo hindi maganda ang feeling nila (I was baffled over the long list of areas of concern. We've been monitoring these areas, and our regional directors have a bad feeling about some areas)," he said. - GMANews.TV