[Featured Article] Only the rich can compete: it’s all about capital by Jade Lopez

Only the rich can compete: it’s all about capital

This article was written by Jade Lopez for the community paper TULAY

“To win a national position… you need a capital of at the very least 200 million pesos,” Professor Felipe B. Miranda has been studying Philippine politics for 40 years, “do not start with a paper approach; counting the number of barangays and people who will vote for or against you… when you join elections, especially at the national level, you must think first of capital, how much money do you have to begin with.”

Professor Miranda knows the business of elections. Public opinion expert, co-founder of top Philippine survey firms Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations, and Professor Emeritus of the University of the Philippines Political Science Department, he has also served as advisor to many an aspiring political candidate, some of whom have won seats at congress, senate and Malacanang.

“Awareness, is also part of the game. Known personalities have an advantage. 200 million pesos as base capital is ok as long as your name is known to the public. Without exposure, then you will need more money.” Professor Miranda adds, candidates should start their campaign at least 2 years ahead of elections to gain exposure and contacts, “that’s why old candidates have an advantage over new names, and why richer candidates have an advantage over those with less money.”

Political scientists call “exposure, “political capital.”

Why 200 million pesos as base capital? Professor Miranda calculates, “to win a national position, you need to win at least 40 per cent of the 50 million voters, or 20 million votes. You will need to spend at least P10 per voter, or a total of 200 million pesos. Actually, often times only about 80 percent of voters turn up, and with many candidates, votes are divided, so you only need to win from 12 to 14 million votes.”

But P200 million covers only the 90 day election campaign. What about the 2 years leading up to the election? “Yes, you will need more money, millions, to make a name, to build that ‘awareness’ among voters about yourself…It’s also connections, if the media like you or are betting on you, then you get free publicity. Same with surveys, they charge less if they like a candidate.”

But don’t expensive elections and campaigns imply that only the rich, or candidates of the rich have any chance at a political seat?

Professor Miranda agrees, “In rare cases, Philippine elections open possibilities for the betterment of the political system, of government. That’s why causes, candidates with causes, cause oriented groups, are important. 1987 for instance (EDSA People Power 1), was a time when people realized the need to put people in office who could work for the betterment of our society. But, for the most part, at the national level especially, it’s hard to sustain the argument that elections in the Philippines have worked to make conditions more democratic, conditions that allow none elite to make or take a national position. There is also very little evidence, historically, that shows that elections here have ever been democratic, honest, regular or fair… The process of selection allows only people with big resources to make it, only the rich can compete…. It’s not enough to say an election is successful just because it was less violent, that the count was honest, or that more people voted. It is just as important to make sure that elections are truly democratic, that they allow people from the majority, who truly represent the interests of the majority, a seat in government.”

No level playing field: COMELEC’s tape measure comes up short

“The law is clear,” adds the soft spoken Atty. Sittie Maimona Tawagon of the COMELEC’s Law Department, “candidates for president and vice president are allowed to spend only 10 pesos per voter… 3 pesos per voter for candidates for senator, congressman, governors, mayors and other local government officials who belong to a political party, and 5 pesos per voter for political parties, party list groups and candidates for senator, congressmen and local government posts who do not belong to a political party.”

That limits campaign expenses for President and Vice President to a little over 500 million pesos. Senators, congressmen without a political party or independents, political parties and party list groups to about 260 million pesos, and millions less for congressmen and other local government candidates running under the banner of a political party.

“The amounts specified for election spending include expenses for rallies, propaganda materials, political ads in television, radio and newspapers…yes travel, food, everything. Even if the rallies were sponsored by a supporter, or if the propaganda materials or ads were donated to the candidate’s campaign, they all should be priced and included in a candidates statement of expenses,” and Atty. Tawagon adds, in January of this year, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) even passed a series of implementing rules and regulations that reiterate and clarify the laws on election spending and propaganda laid out by the Philippine’s laws on fair elections.

“The problem is not in the law, ” adds Atty. Nilda Concha, another lawyer at the COMELEC’s Law Department, “the problem is that we are not given enough people to monitor the candidates expenses, much less verify if all the documents, receipts and statements are correct.”

“The penalties for violation of these laws are a fine and, for repeat offenders, disqualification from government office… No candidate has ever been disqualified for spending more than what the law allows. Although we have fined some of them for not submitting their statement of expenses or for over spending,” however, Atty. Concha admits, the fines are ridiculously small, from 1,000 to 30,000 pesos for the first offense, and from 2,000 to 60,000 for the second offense.

In the 2010 presidential-national election, a coalition of non-government organizations for electoral reform and mass media, conducted a systematic nationwide survey on how much money candidates for president vice president and senators, actually spend for campaigns. (A Campaign Field Finance Monitoring in the 2010 Philippine and National and Local Elections, by Inst. for Political and Electoral Reform, Consortium on Electoral Reform, Pera at Pulitika, together with USAID and International Foundation for Electoral Sytems)

The survey not only confirms Professor Miranda’s estimates on election spending, but reveals that some candidates for national positions, particularly for President and Vice President, actually spent from a modest 400 million pesos to up to over 600 million pesos each, for just the 90-day official campaign period.

Likewise, AC Nielson Media Research which monitored political ads in 2010, estimates that candidates for president and vice president, spent a total of 4.3 billion pesos on political ads alone and that was only counting ads monitored during the 90 day election campaign period.

Just as damning, was the report on how 12 party list groups, affiliated with the Aquino-Roxas ticket, were found to have spent over 426 million pesos on television advertisements alone. And worse, that while their ads campaigned for Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas, neither candidate bothered to include the cost of these ads in their statement of expenses.

In particular, Akabayan, the party list to which Noynoy Aquino’s sisters contributed tens of millions of pesos, was monitored to have spent over 112 million pesos for their campaign. A clear violation of the election laws on campaign expenses, as party list groups only need 2 per cent of the total number of votes nationwide to win a seat or about 1,040,000 votes per seat. Meaning, they needed to spend only a little over 5 million pesos to win one seat, and 15 million pesos to win 3 seats at congress (party list groups are allowed up to 3 seats at the lower house, depending on the number of votes they can muster). Moreover, party list groups are supposed to represent the poorest less privileged sectors of Filipinos, and are expected to be more restrained, and serve as examples of less traditional less expensive forms of politics.

Incredibly, while all surveys agree that almost all candidates spent more than what was stated in their official election expenses statements, in short, broke the laws that limit election spending, the Commission on Elections did nothing more than chastise a few local candidates.

Atty. Ferdinand Rafanan, former Director of the Commission on Elections Law Department and now COMELEC Director for Planning, concurs with the survey findings, “The COMELEC is tasked to enforce laws that limit the amount of money spent on campaigns, and ensure that each candidate gets the same amount of time and space in broadcast and print media to reach out to the public… But you see, our lawmakers and even the Commission itself has made the laws almost impossible to enforce, they deliberately make the rules and procedures for enforcing the laws so ambiguous and convoluted, they emasculate the law.”

Adds Rafanan, “All these laws are just paper laws, because government and the COMELEC commissioners do not give the COMELEC lawyers teeth to enforce them properly. Imagine, the commissioners ruled that the hundreds of thousands of receipts, documents, and statements for expenses from all candidates nationwide, from President down to barangay chairman, have to be submitted to the Law Department for monitoring and verification! Then they assign only one or two lawyers to check on all these papers!”

Atty. Tawagon, just 3 years at the COMELEC is the only lawyer assigned to monitor election expenses for the 2013 elections, ” I will be working with a COMELEC Director, but that Director is also working on other tasks…. No, monitoring expenses is not my only assignment, I handle about 100 other cases… cases on candidates asking for exceptions from the gun ban or who have violated the gun ban, complaints against candidates who violate the law regulating poster sizes, many other cases..Yes, I am assigned one legal assistant, but that assistant is also assigned to so many other cases and tasks as well.”

“Realistically, all we have been able to do at every election is to make sure all candidates have submitted their statements of election expenses and contributions or SECE’s on time,” Atty. Concha points out that, “and while there are new laws asking the Bureau of Internal Revenue , the Anti Money Laundering Council to help us audit all these papers… it’s not exactly clear how they are supposed to help, and what sort of help they can give us. There are only a total of 15 lawyers assigned at the Law Department.”

Dynasties rule, the cost of costly elections

“The cost of costly elections is not simply a drain on the country’s finances, ” stresses Professor Miranda, “costly elections work to destroy a democracy. Even without violence, the way we conduct elections, denote the destruction of democracy.”

Miranda explains, “The dominant pattern of elections throughout our history has been that they are incredible, dishonest, opportunistic and elitist…” and that, “The system itself has been organized so that it is oligarchic, so that the elections themselves are contests among the oligarchs, and so that it creates and promotes political dynasties,” that is, ruling families monopolize government positions and use these positions to enrich their clans and perpetuate themselves in power… The Commission on Elections (COMELEC), which is supposed to guard the vote, has itself, across time, shown bias for or against candidates, and has itself violated the law.”

Atty. Rafanan adds, “Winners can control everything in their constituency, they monopolize the politics and use their power to control government finances and projects. Because more often than not, the very few very rich, or their favored candidate, can compete in elections, it is the very few who have also dominated politics throughout history. That’s why we have political dynasties….they put their wives, children and other relatives in government to gain more monopoly over power.”

As of last count, over 70% of congressmen are members of a political dynasty. That means over 6 out of 10 politicos in congress are from families who have ruled over a region, province or city for decades, and have relatives, wives, husbands, grandparents, parents, children and so on, in a position of power in government.

Rafanan, continues, “Dynasties destroy good governance because you cannot make these families accountable for whatever laws they break or what taxes they steal… the joke is on us, the voting public, because these families do not even spend their own money during elections. they use our money, tax payers money to fund their campaigns, because they have sat in power for so long, they have come to look upon our money as their money. Worse, if tax payer’s money is not enough to fund their campaign, they ask for money from rich friends and big businesses, and so for generations, these families have only served their own and their friends interests, and not that of the public… it’s a vicious cycle.”

How to break this vicious cycle? “Enforce the law,” says Rafanan, “force lawmakers to enforce the anti-dynasty clause in the Constitution…Prosecute those who violate all laws on fair elections.”

Miranda is less optimistic, “I think it will take 3 or more generations more for us to reform the electoral system. And only if we have by that time, a truly patriotic responsible leadership, leaders who sincerely want our people and this country to move forward, to develop, and not leaders who only think of their families, friends and business interests.”

(NOTE: Atty. Rafanan has spent 14 years at the Commission on Elections, trying to help reform the electoral system, and has paid the price for taking his job seriously. Twice kicked out as head of the COMELEC’s National Capital Region Office (covering Metro Manila) for exposing vote buying by administration candidates and anomalies within the Commission, removed as head of the Education and Information Department for “being too honest” with the media, and then again removed as head of the Law Department for “being uncontrollable” when he insisted on investigating COMELEC officials implicated in the purchase of overpriced election materials, Rafanan, has yet again and just before the 2013 elections, been kicked out and up to the “harmless” Planning and Programs Department.)

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