MANILA, March 16, 2004
(STAR) By Marichu Villanueva - Malacañang insisted yesterday that President Arroyo’s television campaign ads remain within the 120-minute limit set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the Palace will "adopt" the Comelec’s interpretation of the law on political advertisements on television — that each candidate in the May 10 presidential election is allowed a total of 120 minutes "per TV station," not the total being divided among several television networks.

Bunye pointed out that this interpretation was expressed by no less than Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos, and that the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan para sa Kinabukasan (K-4) was not perturbed by a petition seeking Mrs. Arroyo’s disqualification filed by Pro-Constitution (Pro-Con), a group of lawyers that reportedly has links with the opposition Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino.

"We are not bothered over this report because the advertisements of the President have a record and there is a log and based on records that we hold, we are within the Comelec limits," he said.

"We urge all parties to settle down to a sober debate instead of whipping up charges and rumors that have nothing to do with the public welfare," Bunye added.

Pro-Con alleged that Mrs. Arroyo overshot the 120-minute limit for political ads on television for the whole campaign period.

Saying that the allegations are "part and parcel of the opposition’s demolition job," Bunye said the K-4 political machinery faithfully "complied" with the poll body’s requirements on this particular rule.

"The records of the media channels are open to all. We have strictly adhered to the Comelec time limits on political advertising. Our expenditures are well within bounds," he said.

Bunye, however, did not name who was keeping tabs on the President’s compliance with the time limit on political ads for television.

"This is being monitored and one of those who monitor this, he said he’s confident we are within the limits," he said, but stopped short of naming the person monitoring the ads.

Bunye also sidestepped questions on whether Malacañang makes a distinction between Mrs. Arroyo’s political ads and her "infomercials" on governance.

The President earlier said one cannot separate the politics of her running for a fresh mandate from the day-to-day running of government affairs.

Mrs. Arroyo, in an official statement she issued last week, vowed to continue discharging her duty to implement the law, such as her controversial distribution of Philippine Health Insurance Corp. (PhilHealth) cards.

"Public service is the highest law. I will continue to serve the people because my oath holds firmly even during the campaign," she said.

Though she did not mention the criminal charges filed by Pro-Con against PhilHealth and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office for alleged electioneering and illegal distribution of campaign materials, she apparently referred to her controversial distribution of PhilHealth cards bearing her image during her campaign sorties all over the country.

"A President cannot say the welfare of the people must wait because I have to separate service from politics," Mrs. Arroyo said. "I must act every hour of the day on the most pressing needs of the average Filipino and I am prepared to suffer the barbs that come with it."

Comelec spokesman Fernando Rafanan had reportedly warned that the President might be disqualified from running in the May polls for alleged illegal distribution of campaign materials.

She earlier contended that she merely implementing the PhilHealth Law of 1995, which she had co-authored when she was a senator.

"So why should I be disqualified for implementing the law?" Mrs. Arroyo rhetorically asked.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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