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With Due Respect

The cost of presidential campaigns

While mulling on whether to file their certificates of candidacy on Oct. 1 to 8, presidentiables and their supporters may want to know how much their election campaign will or can cost.

A staggering P50 billion, so answers Leo Alejandrino, investment banker turned blogger. That sounds like an awful lot of money. But the “heneralunacy” titillates less than honorable politicians with a “return on investment” of possibly “less than one year” in this wise:

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“The addressable market for corruption… is (A) the National Budget (P5 trillion) and (B) the sweetheart deals—the franchises and permits granted or denied, the favored business transactions, the tax leakages, the regulatory reach; which are correlated to our GDP (P19 trillion). Assuming the leakage in (A) is 10 percent of the Budget or P500 billion (which is small compared to the overpricing we see in the PPE) and the corruption in (B) is 2.5 percent of GDP (the allowable pilferage rate in supermarkets) or some P500 billion; the annual take from corruption is close to P1 trillion and even this could be a low ball estimate…

“Considering the P50 billion election kitty was itself sourced from corruption, the return on investment is actually infinite. It is what investment bankers call a leveraged buyout where you purchase a company by raiding to death the funds of the company itself. If that sounds like the plunder of our country, it is.”

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What does the law say of his estimate of P50 billion? Section 13 of Republic Act No. 7166 replies that candidates for president and vice president are each allowed to spend no more than an “aggregate” sum of P10 per registered voter nationwide; for senators and party-list reps, P3; for “candidates without a political party and without support from any political party,” P5. In addition, a registered political party may spend P5 for every registered voter in the “constituencies where it has official candidates.”

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) expects over 60 million registered voters nationwide for the May 9, 2022 polls. Therefore, a presidentiable and his/her VP teammate are allowed to spend a max of P600 million each or P1.2 billion for both. Each registered political party supporting the team can spend P300 million. The 12 senatorial candidates of the team can spend P180 million each, or P2.16 billion for all 12.

Though much less than P50 billion, those figures are still awfully enormous. Moreover, RA 7166 was passed 30 years ago in 1991; at that time, they were deemed reasonable. Today, given inflation and more corruption piling up, those figures must have multiplied several times in actual (and unreported) amounts spent.

For administration candidates, the cash and cash equivalents may be easy to secure, but not for the opposition, especially if it is divided, and most especially if the credible poll surveys are unfavorable. The major contributors examine these surveys minutely and gravitate naturally toward the probable winners.

In fact, many years ago, a presidential bet who was way ahead in the surveys boasted, “Masaya ang eleksyon. Hindi na ako gumagastos, kumikita pa. Sana palaging may eleksyon! (Elections are fun. I do not spend; in fact, I earn. Let’s have more elections!)”

In the past, presidential campaigns involved platform speeches, hand-shaking, baby-kissing, miting de avance, TV-radio plugs, print ads, and the like. Then as now, candidates, political parties, and donors were/are required (with penal sanctions) to report donations and expenses to the Comelec.

Given the pandemic and tech digitization, the 2022 election campaign will be mostly contactless. More and more, the shift will be to social media bloggers, influencers, troll armies, and fake news sellers that—unlike print and TV-radio ads—are difficult to identify, to track, and to sue for libel and other illegalities. The Comelec and the public would be hard-pressed to verify the “aggregate” expenses on them.

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The contactless campaign will also make the LGU officials, especially the barangay captains (who, by law, are sworn to be nonpartisan), extremely important because they are the dispensers of ayuda, packed meals, and medical aid to the masses.

As in the casting, counting, and canvassing of the ballots, whether manual or automated, electoral reforms should focus also on campaign spending, which in itself is a major sign, if not a major source and effect, of monstrous corruption. Electoral reforms to curb spending in the new normal deserve a future column.

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TAGS: 2022 elections, Artemio V. Panganiban, presidential campaign cost, With Due Respect
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