Soce: back to zero
It seems like a small thing, a mere administrative matter rehashed from previous elections, but the Commission on Elections’ en banc decision to allow the Liberal Party and its presidential candidate Mar Roxas to file their statements of contributions and expenditures (or Soces) by June 30 is wrong for many reasons.
It is true that the extension of the deadline from June 8—30 days after the elections, as provided for in law—benefits not only the Liberal Party and Roxas but also other parties and other candidates. The Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino and Aksyon Demokratiko have also failed to meet the original deadline, as have several senators, many governors and over 100 representatives.
It is also true that—as Commissioner Rowena Guanzon explained after the agency’s 4-3 vote—the Comelec had extended the deadline in previous elections. Indeed, even though election lawyer Sixto Brillantes took the agency to task for granting the three-week extension, the Comelec under his chairmanship in 2013 extended the deadline by an entire year.
It is also true that—as Guanzon, again, pointed out—the provision in Republic Act No. 7166 disallowing candidates to take office if the treasurer of their political party fails to make the deadline is untenable; it is “absurd” for the Comelec to disqualify, say, hundreds of winning candidates of a given party simply because the party treasurer missed the deadline, and doubly so if the candidates themselves filed their statements on time.
But it is the Liberal Party that missed the original deadline, the same political party that sought to elevate Philippine politics to a higher moral plane. What is daang matuwid, the straight path, if not a moral, not merely practical, approach to governance? The argument raised by LP supporters or Roxas sympathizers—that those who criticize the mote in the ruling coalition’s eye (a mere bureaucratic shortcoming) do not have the right to do so because they have failed to remove the beam in their own eye (condoning human rights violations by the so-called Davao Death Squads)—is erroneous. It makes what logicians call a category error, comparing two fundamentally different objects.
The first cause that the Liberal Party offered as a reason for the delay—that there were very many contributors and it would take more time to document every donation —also does not hold water. In the first place, other parties received small donations, too. Secondly, the campaigns are required to give regular updates on contributions and expenses; they do not have only the 30 days after Election Day to do the documentation, but in fact the entire campaign period (90 days for national candidates, 45 days for local candidates). Third, when the LP did submit its Soce, there was hardly a trace of the small donors that was supposed to have held up the submission.
Most important, the Soce is an important element of the Comelec’s renewed effort to exact greater transparency and accountability from both parties and candidates. We may not have yet reached the level of legally mandated openness that, in the United States, the Federal Election Commission’s filings regularly achieve. Months before the US election, for instance, we can collectively ridicule the pathetic state of businessman Donald Trump’s campaign fund-raising and spending; his filing for May shows that the alleged billionaire has very little cash on hand, not even enough for a congressional candidate, and that he used almost 20 percent of his spending to pay his own businesses.
This was Commissioner Christian Robert Lim’s rationale for rejecting the Liberal Party’s application for extension at the campaign finance office level, and his reason for resigning as head of that same office. “’Di acceptable ang policy shift,” he said. He was referencing the context of the work of the present Comelec, enforcing transparency provisions like that on the Soce. “We started it in 2011. Baby steps. Then bigger steps in 2016. Now it’s back to zero.”
Lim said: “Even in 2013, I was fighting for the nonextendible rule but the en banc did not approve. That’s why there was late penalty. But 2013 was just experimental and 2016 was the culmination. All our efforts went to waste.”
For moral, practical and policy reasons then, the Comelec’s 4-3 decision to extend the deadline is wrong.