(STAR) AS A MATTER OF FACT By Sara Soliven De Guzman - Just a few weeks after Typhoon Ondoy’s and Typhoon Pepeng’s wake up call to the Filipino people, we are already witnessing how so much money is being spent on the presidential campaign.

The amount of energy that goes into electing public officials is ridiculous and wasteful.

If the candidates are running on a platform of “change”, then we should first agree to change the electoral process. COMELEC must be more responsible this time to come up with rules to control campaign expenses and more importantly make sure that the candidates strictly adhere to them.

Why not think of stronger measures to ensure honorable and decent campaign programs that will encourage candidates to be more dedicated to their aspirations of vying for public office?

Are we embarking on a campaign trail that is trying to achieve the vote based on “popularity”? How can this country ever get back on the right track then, if we encourage such objectives?

The money spent on campaign ads alone is stupendous! It is immoral. The billions spent on advertising of all types in this country are disturbing. Much of the money spent on presidential campaigns is vanity money. These ads put image above substance and focus the public’s attention on incomplete truths and unfair attacks. The amount of money poured into political ads does not elevate the level of discourse or help citizens make informed decisions in voting. Why not program more nationally-televised debates, with salient questions? By doing this we can discourage or eliminate the annoying and misleading campaigns that mean little to any intelligent person’s understanding of the issues.

COMELEC has the power to limit candidates from printing banners, signs and other paraphernalia that will add up to the tons of garbage we already have and which our landfills can no longer accommodate. We must break the old habit of believing that the party with the most money will win. Let us try to keep the election simple and by doing so, we are able to save all the energy — time, material and money — and focus more on concrete and lasting goals.

Many of our voters must be inspired to seriously consider experience, leadership ability, and approach to major issues when casting a vote. We must learn how to vote based on the candidates’ ability to perform the duties of the office and not by mere campaign tricks.

Amidst poverty, devastation and calamities — how can our politicians afford such audacity?

How is the COMELEC implementing the Omnibus Election Code? Does it still exist? Electioneering is in full blast right now. Shouldn’t the campaign period begin only in February 2010? Doesn’t the law prohibit premature campaigning? So how can these candidates with commercial advertisements on television, radio and on the billboards get away with the law? They say that there is no premature campaigning if the candidate has not yet filed a certificate of candidacy scheduled from November 20-30 of this year. Another lame excuse is that the Election Code allows campaigning if it is intended to capture a seat as an official candidate of a national party. Others say they are merely earning extra income. What blatant lies and deception! COMELEC should fix up these snags in the election code. They must also draw up a resolution to define the crime of premature campaigning.

Under RA 7166 or the Synchronized Election Law, all candidates with a political party may spend only P3 for every registered voter and P5 for those without a political party. A political party may spend only P5 per voter. But the private support groups and donors is a different story. Is there a limit to their contributions? Mind you, this “unlimited” and alternative source of funding and the inability of the COMELEC to enforce campaign finance regulations are the seeds of major corruption issues of future presidents.

Anyway, let’s see how other countries do it. In Singapore, the law imposes a limit on the level of spending by or on behalf of every candidate in the conduct and management of his/ her election. Without such a limit, parties with greater resources will gain an advantage on spending more for publicity. For the presidential elections, $600,000 or 30 cents for each registered voter is allowed. Any spending by or on behalf of a candidate in excess of the limit set by the law is an election offence called an illegal practice. The penalty is a fine of up to $300, and disqualification for 3 years from being on the registers of electors, from voting at any election and from being a candidate at a Parliamentary or Presidential election. At the end of the election, every candidate and his/her election agent must account for all the spending by or on behalf of the candidate in the conduct and management of election. These returns respecting election expenses have to be filed with the Returning Officer within 31 days after the election results are published.

For the purpose of eliminating inequalities in campaigns due to economic factors and also to alleviate the economic burden, Japan imposed restrictions on expenditures for election campaigns. Limits on expenditures for each candidate vary according to the type of election. Members of the House of Representatives get ¥19,100,000 (about $207,000); members of the House of Councilors get ¥ 52,000,000 (about $565, 000); Prefectural Governors get ¥24,200,000 (about $262,000); Mayors of designated cities get ¥14,500,000 (about $157,000); while Mayors are allotted ¥ 1,300,000 (about $14,000.). Statutory campaign expenses are based on the number of members to be elected in the constituency and the number of registered voters. A campaign accountant keeps a record of all revenue including contributions and expenditures, and report on the status of receipts and disbursements to the election management committee. For the purpose of clean elections and fair government, restrictions are also imposed on contributions concerning elections or other political activities. These are: ban on contributions by those closely connected with the national or local authorities, ban on contributions by candidates, restrictions on contributions made by any person or corporation, ban in receipt of contributions from foreign nationals and anonymous contributions.

If we can only abide by the rules and be as transparent as these two countries when it comes to election expenses, then surely we can have a free and fair election. If our COMELEC officials are determined to make genuine reforms in the electoral processes, then, the Philippines will have a chance to walk along the path of growth, prosperity and stability.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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