Now seems as good a time as any to talk about the campaign period heading our way at breakneck speed. More specifically, let me talk about premature campaigning and political broadcast adverts.
We’ve been all over the news and though very few seem willing to verbalize it, the perception I guess is that the COMELEC is ducking it’s responsibility to control the seemingly uncontrollable urge of politicians to plaster the town with their faces and cheesy grins. Copping out, is how Jarius Bondoc called it, I think.
While I can see exactly why the COMELEC cannot legally compel these jokers to tear down their posters, much less stop them from putting up new ones before they file their certificates of candidacy, I always had difficulty accepting that there was nothing we could do.
Things came to a head for me several days ago when I read three different news stories about how three different people had brazenly declared that they would run for office. These three people, not surprisingly, are among the people whose faces I see all over the place, grinning benevolently at all the little people … la-dee-da. When I read that they had announced to all and sundry that they would be throwing their hats into the ring (not really a big surprise), I immediately got the urge to tear down their posters and smack them upside their heads.
The reason the COMELEC hasn’t been going after these people is that they aren’t officially candidates yet, them not having filed their certificates of candidacy. However, a certificate of candidacy is really nothing more than a categorical declaration that the person filing it will seek public office. To my mind, standing is some plaza or sitting in some coffee shop knowing full well that everyone’s eyes and ears are on you, and announcing that you will be running for office is just as categorical a declaration as filing a COC. Therefore, I reasoned, a person who has performed this ‘constructive’ filing of a COC should already be subject to the rules that apply to candidates; the actual filing of the COC then, would just be a formality.
If the rule were otherwise (which, tragically, it is) then these worthies who have declared their intention to run can very easily circumvent the campaign rules by refusing to file their COCs til the very last day (12 Feb for Senators and PL; 30 Mar for everyone else) and embarking on a poster orgy in the meantime. Libreng kampanya taken to absurd lengths. As I said, I have a big-ass problem with that.
But then again, the law may suck, but it is the law. So, legally – TECHNICALLY – these worthies are still beyond our reach. However, I think that where the law so obviously fails, we ought to take the bull by the horns and get creative – of course without violating the law ourselves.
My proposal, therefore, is this: the COMELEC should ask every politician who has gone on record – with the media, mostly – as intending to run should immediately take down his posters and refrain from putting up new ones until the start of the election period. I’m thinking shame campaign (which might not work since the success of a shame campaign is predicated on the subject of the campaign having the capacity for shame), or it’s slightly more politically correct cousin, a campaign of moral suasion.
However, considering the need for the COMELEC to remain strictly neutral, it would be exceedingly difficult to conduct such a shame campaign while maintaining the kind of objectivity we need to preserve. The solution, I think, lies with the youth and advocacy groups. After all, these pols are just courting votes. Think of it as an exercise in consumer power.
When people stop buying a product – or protest enough about a product – the manufacturers slow down. If the protest continues long enough, the manufacturer just ups and stops making the product altogether. Maybe we can do the same. Maybe we can tell these pols that their circumvention of the law will lose them votes. Maybe that sort of thing will knock some sense into them.
I don’t know how well this plan will work – from a distance, it sounds naive, even to me – but short of amending the law, there really isn’t much we can do.
Political Broadcast Adverts
My other pet peeve. There’s this law (RA 9006) that says candidates can have a maximum of 120 minutes worth of political TV broadcast advertising. Now, this has always been interpreted to mean an aggregate of 120 minutes worth of adverts on all channels. Now there is a school of thought that believes the COMELEC ought to interpret it to mean a maximum of 120 minutes worth per station.
SO, under the traditional interpretation, the equation would be [120 divided by (number of tv stations)]. Lets call this the ‘aggregate’ interpretation. Under the other – let’s call it ‘liberal’ – interpretation the expression would be [120 per station].
Now, the reason the COMELEC prefers the aggregate rule is that it prevents the moneyed politico from overwhelming the poorer politico with TV ads, and forces the moneyed politico into more or less the same footing as the poor guy.
Think of it this way. Politician A has 15 million clams to spend, and B has only 10. TV ads costs 5 million each. A good ground campaign also costs 5 million. Under the liberal rule, A can buy two ads and still have money left over for a good ground campaign; whereas B can afford only one ad and a good ground campaign. Even taking for granted that these two pols stayed within the spending limits, it is clear that without the cap provided by the aggregate rule, Politico A can easily clobber B by simply spending more on TV ads than B can ever hope to match.
But, adherents of the liberal rule argue, even if politico A can only spend 5 million on TV ads, he’d still have twice as much money for a ground campaign than B does. True enough, but what they forget is that with a ground campaign, lack of money can be made up for by good connections and the kindness of strangers. The same can’t be said of TV advertising where the bottom line is always money – the cost of an advert. So, under the aggregate rule, B has a far better chance of matching A’s campaign since A is forced to spend more money on the ground campaign; money which B can match for effect with better connections and better campaign strategies.
Flustered by this argument, the adherents of the liberal rule shift their attack to: “but it is the COMELEC’s duty to make sure that the public’s right to be informed is protected, and mass media is the best way of keeping the public informed.” The implication, of course, is that the COMELEC should make sure that candidates are allowed to make practically unlimited used of broadcast because that’s the best way to promote themselves; and that if the aggregate rule were to be followed, we would be depriving the candidate of access to that most powerful of media: TV.
Nonsense. The overarching mandate of the COMELEC is not to ensure that politicos get access to the best possible means to promote themselves, but to guarantee that no candidate gets an undue advantage over another. In fact,if you want to pursue that to its logical end, the COMELEC should make sure that financial resources should not be allowed to be the deciding factor in the effectivity of a campaign – to do so would be tantamount to tilting the scales in favor of the rich, and that would be practically imposing a property requirement for candidacy.
But what about the people’s right to be informed? The people’s right to be informed can be served even without politicians flooding the airwaves with their political messages. Seriously. I don’t know where these people get off insinuating that TV is the only way to inform the people.
And as for the candidate’s right to use his money to his greatest advantage, sure, he has that right. But that right is by no means absolute. That right is subject to reasonable regulation, meant to achieve a legitimate end. And that is exactly what the aggregate rule: a reasonable regulation – because it merely limits access to broadcast advertising without oppresively eliminating all access – meant to achieve a legitimate end – a level playing field for those who can afford, and those who can hardly afford.