Hey, big spenders
The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has done the electorate a big service with its latest report — a look into the advertising expenses incurred by the senatorial candidates for the coming May 2019 polls, even before the official campaign period had begun.
Its findings are mind-boggling: Data culled from Nielsen Media’s monitoring showed that 18 out of 61 candidates had spent a combined P2.4 billion on print, radio, TV and outdoor ads from January 2018 to January 2019. The official campaign period for senatorial candidates started only on Feb. 12.
The biggest ad spender is Christopher “Bong” Go, President Duterte’s closest confrere since 1998 and his former special assistant in Malacañang, who spent P422.5 million to introduce himself to the electorate.
Go’s net worth is only P12.8 million, according to his 2017 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN). His adspend is 3,287 percent more than his stated financial capacity.
“The mystery is stark: Go… is the poorest of the top adspenders with a declared net worth of only P12.85 million, and cash on hand/in bank of only P3.9 million, as of his December 2017 SALN,” PCIJ noted.
Go, who has continued to be visible beside Mr. Duterte despite having been deemed resigned from his post as special assistant since October, has previously said no government funds will be used in his senatorial ambition.
“Ni piso wala pong government funds na gagamitin… I’ll resign kung may piso na ginamit na government funds. Kung may ginamit na government funds huwag niyo po akong iboto (Not a single peso of government funds was used… I’ll resign if there was a peso of government funds used [in my campaign]. If there is, don’t vote for me).”
While he has refused to reveal his major campaign donors, Go said he would be transparent about his campaign expenses when he files his statement of contributions and expenses.
Coming in second to Go is his fellow candidate under the Hugpong ng Pagbabago-Partido Demokratiko Pilipino banner, Imee Marcos, who acquired P413.2 million worth of ads, but declared a net worth of only P24.5 million, and cash on hand of only P2.5 million, in her 2017 SALN.
In fourth place was Harry Roque, who quit the Senate race on Feb. 1, citing health reasons. By Jan. 31, Roque’s adspend had reached P174 million, or P75.1 million more than his declared net worth of P98.87 million.
The combined precampaign adspend of Go, Marcos and Roque alone already accounted for two-thirds of the administration slate’s total of more than P1.5 billion, according to the PCIJ. “Those with the lowest net worth, the biggest liabilities, and the smallest cash on hand are, as of their latest SALN, among the biggest spenders on precampaign ads.”
Administrative bets were not the only ones who splurged on ads. The opposition spent P132 million on 107 TV spots in January alone.
Two of its frontrunners, Manuel “Mar” Roxas II and reelectionist senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, ranked third and sixth, respectively, in the PCIJ report.
Independent candidates, including reelectionist senator Grace Poe who was the seventh highest adspender, spent a combined P217 million.
Where does all this money come from?
“The possible sources of those millions of pesos poured into precampaign ads include hidden or unexplained wealth, public funds, and even indirect bribery from private donors,” said the PCIJ.
The head-spinning amounts politicians are spending to get themselves elected become even more staggering in light of the conditions of the country they want to lead.
About 22 million Filipinos live below the poverty line of about P100 a day, or $1.90, based on 2015 data from the World Bank. In addition, majority of the country’s over 60 million registered voters are from the impoverished class.
The late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, both a famous wit and an infamous loose cannon who alternated between blasting corruption in government and cozying up to the likes of former president Joseph Estrada and former senator Bongbong Marcos, was clear-eyed enough in 2016 about the implications of ad overspending by candidates: “The question we must ask is this,” she said. “How will these politicians recover the scandalous amounts they spend for their campaign? The simple answer is that they will steal from public funds, or will at least be tempted to do so. An alternative would be to give favors to rich contributors, to the detriment of public interest.”
History teacher Diego Magallona put it another way in a tweet: “People willing to spend that much (too much) money on promoting themselves for election should not be trusted with public funds.”