Duterte in flagrante delicto
A piece of incriminating evidence has surfaced, and President Duterte has nobody but his unwitting self to blame. In case few noticed, his personal pique against ABS-CBN has in fact turned out to be a “me-and-my-loud-mouth” slip-up that could cost him his political fortune.
In many perorations, Mr. Duterte threatened the network’s franchise renewal for failing to air some of his paid 2016 campaign ads. But in last week’s Senate hearing, that line of diatribe has changed. Enlisting Sen. Bong Go to speak as his alter ego, Go showed the 2016 negative ad paid for by then Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV.
Given his gossipy kiss-and-tell soliloquies, it is highly dubious he weighed the consequences. Those unaired ads are a smoking gun: he overspent campaign ads contrary to what he had declared in his statement of contributions and expenditures (SOCE) that run up to P110,359,858. ABS-CBN said Mr. Duterte paid for aired ads totaling some P175 million (minus the money paid for the unaired ads). That’s not counting the other networks yet.
In May 2014, the Commission on Elections unseated Laguna governor ER Ejercito for breaching the lawful cap on ads spending. The Comelec ordered Ejercito to cease and desist from performing the functions of provincial governor and declared a permanent vacancy in the office. In his SOCE, Ejercito reported P1,132,986.62 worth of newspaper, radio, TV, and other ads. But ad contracts and certificates of performance (official reports certifying the airing of ads showing the dates and time of broadcast submitted by media outfits and verified by private media monitoring firm Nielsen) indicated otherwise. Ejercito lied; he actually overspent by P19 million.
The Omnibus Election Code’s Article 12, Section 264 states that any person violating the law “shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation. In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage.” One can also be held liable for perjury. Recall that Mr. Duterte projected an image of a candidate with a shoestring budget.
In the Senate, Go complicated matters by focusing on the new tact of the negative ads. But negative ads are actually allowed under Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Election Act of 2001, Section 4 of which covers any “broadcast of election propaganda by television or radio for or against a candidate…” For the record, there were also negative ads on Jejomar Binay in the 2016 election campaign.
The ABS-CBN pique is more of irritation than vendetta. Davao City media know this—the Dutertes get inexorably anemic when the family playbook is transgressed, the rule of thumb that dissent is prohibited territory. The same playbook cannot be migrated to the Philippines where media do not necessarily operate from a southern backwater framework. There is, for instance, something for reportage as Trillanes is fairly the only person confronting Mr. Duterte’s accountability head-on. Unable to pounce on Trillanes who has no corruption record, Mr. Duterte makes a scapegoat of ABS-CBN.
Mr. Duterte’s collision course only exposes how he is overwhelmed not by strategy or political will and neither by concern for the poor nor fighting oligarchs, but by vitriol when it is his persona that is attacked. His position will always be poorly defensible because it is not based on laws.
Groping for defense, spokespersons are cheapened as con artists scrambling to compose rhyme and reason. Sal Panelo said one thing (“The President has nothing to do with it”), Go another (“I will appeal to the President”). Only a profusion of troll farms can soften their dilemma.
ABS-CBN’s audience following runs up to numbers several exponents higher than the 16 million who voted for Mr. Duterte. The potential of a colossal erosion of his populist following is real. That spells a red flag in raising a kind successor in 2022 that can absolve him for possible crimes. Is that why he is now road-testing Go?
Of course he loses this issue because he has allowed tantrum to shape national policy.
On Twitter: @AntonioJMontal2. Email: [email protected]
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