COMELEC CAN'T TRACK OVERSPENDING
THE Commission on Elections has so far failed to set up a mechanism to monitor overspending by candidates in the May elections, raising fears that the coming polls would turn out to be the most expensive in recent history.
The Omnibus Election Code prohibits overspending and classifies it as an election offense.
But a Comelec official conceded yesterday that candidates can get away with overspending like they have been doing with campaign propaganda.
This is because the Comelec has no mechanism to check if a candidate had spent more than what the law allows for a campaign, said Comelec executive director Rcsurreccion Borra.
Section 100, Article 11 of the Election Code states the limits of election spending for a candidate and a political party.
Under the law a candidate for president and vice president can spend as much as P10 for every registered voter nationwide. The rest of the candidates an spend P3 for each voter.
A candidate running under a political party is entitled to an additional P5 expense per voter or a total of P15 for the president and vice-president and P8 for other candidates.
NOT IN 1992
Estimates by political operators showed that a presidential candidate needs at least P3 billion to mount a decent campaign for the May polls.
Shortly after the 1992 synchronized elections, Borra recalled that the Comelec under then chairman Christian Monsod tried to make up for the law's flaws by conducting a separate inquiry into the veracity of the candidates' reports on their expenses and donors.
Tapped for the move were lawyers and certified public accountants, including those from the National Bureau of Investigation, Borra said.
Borra, however, does not see that happening now. The system of counterchecking had been scrapped in 1995 when Monsod retired, he said.
For this year's elections, Borra said there is no indication that the commission headed by Bernardo Pardo will conduct an investigation similar to what was made in 1992.
Within 30 days after the elections, all candidates or their party treasurers are supposed to submit a statement to the Comelec detailing the following:
-the amount of contribution from and information on the donors;
-how much was spent and how the spending was done; and
-any unpaid obligation, its nature and amount and to whom the obligation is owed.
Candidates who fail to submit a statement of expenses and contributions face fines ranging from P1,000 to P30,000 as determined by the Comelec.
Furthermore, a winning candidate cannot assume his or her post unless he or she has submitted the statement.
Obviously intended to prevent overspending by richer candidates and level the field for the poorer ones, Borra, however, lamented that the law on election expanses has been ineffective.
He said a major flaw in the law is that candidates are given the discretion on what to state in the statement of expenses and expenditures. The Comelec has no effective means to verify the candidates' claims, he added.
As such, Borra noted, not one candidate has ever stated that he or she had overspent.
"We are the only country where our politicians are the most law-abiding. No one has ever admitted that they overspent. Either they have underspent or have made-expenditures within the limits of the law," Borra told reporters.
In the 1995 senatorial election, the Comelec took the word of the candidates that all information stated in their statements were true and correct.
Lawful expenditures include travel fare of candidates and campaign volunteers; compensation of campaign workers like precinct watchers, stenographers, clerks and messengers; telephone and communication bills and freight; printing and distribution of campaign propaganda materials; campaign headquarters, equipment and furnishings; logistics for political meetings and tallies; legal fees of lawyers; copying of the voters' lists; and investigation and legal action against persons with questionable voters' registration and sample ballots.
The law, however, provides that lawyers' fees paid by parties in election-related cases are not included in the computation of total expenditures of candidates.
This is because litigation could become protracted and, therefore, a continuing expense.
Based on his report to the Comelec, President Ramos spent only P117.860 million in his bid for the presidency in 1992 - an amount well within the cap imposed by the law.
Among the 1992 senatorial candidates, Edgardo Angara was the biggest spender with expenses of P7.591 million, followed closely by Teofisto Guingona with P7.433 million and Raul Roco, P7.353 million. All of them won.
In the 1995 senatorial elections, Juan Ponce Enrile was the biggest spender with over P16.718 million in expenses, followed by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with 11.997 million, and Sergio Osmena, P9.569 million.
Again, all three candidates won.
Meanwhile, two opposition senators yesterday said the Comelec should summon National Security Adviser Jose T. Almonte once it starts looking into reports that cabinet officials have been raising funds for the ruling Lakas-NUCD.
Senators Blas Ople and Ernesto Herrera, stalwarts of the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP), said that Almonte's admission of soliciting funds for Lakas was "tantamount to a confession of wrongdoing which would make the Comelec's job easier"
"There is a prima facie case of wrongdoing here and the Comelec could pursue its inquiry into the matter," said Ople.
Christian Action for Peaceful and Meaningful Elections
Loyola School of Theology, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City
Tel. No. 924-4951 local 3588, Fax No. 924-4442
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