Villar has 11 times more ads than GMA in pre-election year

Villar has 11 times more ads than GMA in pre-election year
By Carmela Fonbuena

But President Arroyo had a free ride on institutional ads placed by government agencies

MANILA, Philippines – The country has seen in 3 elections how political advertisements can elect senators. But its power in a presidential race is yet to be seen. The candidacy of Manuel Villar Jr. of the Nacionalista Party (NP) is the test case.

Based on rate cards, Villar spent a total of P1.4 billion in television, radio, and print ads from January to December 2009, the pre-election year. This is based on data from media monitoring group AGB Nielsen Media Research.

Survey frontrunner Benigno Aquino III, who joined the race only in September 2009, spent P143 million from October to December.

According to the Fair Elections Act, media organizations should give candidates a 30% discount. But Villar’s camp claimed that they got a 66% discount because they bought the spots early. At this rate, it means that Villar spent P488 million for airing and publishing his advertisements the whole year last year. This amount does not include the cost of producing the ads.

Notwithstanding the actual cost of the ads, Newsbreak calculations show that, in terms of number, Villar had at least 11 times more ads last year than President Arroyo had the year before she ran for president (to get her own mandate; she was only serving the unexpired term of President Joseph Estrada, who was ousted in 2001).

President Arroyo’s ads from January to December 2003 cost a total of P63 million, based on the monitoring of AC Nielsen Media Research. (AC Nielsen has since merged with AGB.)

The advertising costs have doubled in the past 6 years. At today’s rates, President Arroyo’s ads would cost about P126 million. We used this amount in our calculation.

This computation is conservative. We used the rates for TV ads to adjust President Arroyo’s spending. In 2003, a 30-seconder ad on ABS-CBN during prime time cost P218,213. Last year, the cost of the same spot practically doubled to P432,879.

(Download chart: Advertisement Spending of Villar, Arroyo in Pre-Election Years)

We used TV ad rates because TV corners the biggest chunk of candidates’ ad spending. It is also the most expensive medium. In terms of total number of ads on TV, radio, and print, Villar may have more than 11 times President Arroyo had in 2003 because the same amount spent for TV can buy more spots in radio and print.

Newsbreak obtained the 2009 data from 2 advertising agencies that regularly receive reports from the AGB Nielsen. For veracity, we checked that the numbers from the 2 sources are identical. (AGB Nielsen has given another media organization an exclusive rights to its data this election.)

We compared the numbers with our file data on ad spending for the 2004 presidential elections.

Gov’t vs personal money

The political ad ban was lifted in January 2001. President Arroyo belonged to the first batch of presidential candidates who were allowed to use political advertisements as campaign tool.

But the 2004 election was not a good testing ground for the power of the political ads in a presidential race. President Arroyo’s victory—albeit disputed—in 2004 could not be attributed to her ads.

An incumbent president seeking to extend her term, President Arroyo enjoyed unmatched advantage over her rivals. As president, her activities were always covered in the news, giving her constant media exposure.

By current standards, President Arroyo’s media spending of P63 million is a drop in the bucket. But at that time when most people were still unfamiliar with the new campaign tool, President Arroyo’s ad spending was already controversial for being excessive.

President Arroyo’s ads in the pre-election year were even more questionable because government funds were used to pay for them. Various government agencies and corporations—Department of Agriculture, Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., Department of Transportation and Communications, Office of the Press Secretary, and Pag-Ibig Fund—came out with “institutional ads” showcasing President Arroyo’s supposed achievements.

A Commission on Audit shows that the national government spent a total of P278.4 million in advertisements in 2003.

(Download chart: Government Agencies that Spent on Arroyo Advertisements in 2003)

For his part, Villar, who says he is spending his own money for the ads, is equally criticized for his huge spending. Critics fear that he will ecoup his spending if he gets elected, a charge denied by the candidate.

It is in an advertisement that Villar defends himself against allegations that he will seek to enrich himself. “Kung talagang gusto ko yumaman, babalik na lang ako sa pagka-negosyante (If I really want to get rich, then I’ll just go back to being a businessman),” he says in the ad.

A real estate and housing magnate, Villar has a conjugal fortune valued by Forbes business magazine at US$540 million, making him the 9th richest in the country this year.

In a presidential forum in February, Villar also said his ads were his tools to match the popularity of Aquino.

“Hindi naman ako artista. Wala akong nanay na presidente. Wala akong kapatid na artista. Kailangan ang mahirap ang pinagsimulan na gaya ko ay bigyan ng pagkakataon, ng level playing field. Kung hindi ito (pol ads), wala na (I’m not a movie star. I don’t have a president for my mother. I don’t have a sister who’s an actress. Those with poor beginnings should be given a chance, a level playing field. There’s no other way to do that but through ads),” Villar said.

Villar had been the survey frontrunner until Aquino joined the presidential race in September 2009. Aquino’s candidacy was accidental—pushed by his supporters as a “public clamor” resulting from the death of her mother, democracy icon President Corazon Aquino.

Pulse Asia chief research fellow Ana Tabunda, former dean of the University of the Philippines School of Statistics, said media’s tribute to President Aquino as an honest, loving, and motherly played a role in “conditioning” the minds of Filipino voters into favoring Aquino.

In the October 2009 Pulse Asia survey, Aquino got 44 points compared to Villar’s 19 points.

Benefits of SC ruling

Based on the increase of Villar’s survey ratings, it appears that the voters didn’t mind his spending. It was his massive ad spending that was credited for the improvement of Villar’s survey ratings, allowing him to catch up with Aquino.

The January 2010 Pulse Asia survey showed Aquino and Villar statistically tied at 36 points and 35 points, respectively. For Villar, it was a 16-point leap from the October survey. For Aquino, it was a 9-point slide. The numbers have since been erratic, but Aquino’s lead has since failed to break the single-digit mark.

Villar’s ads worked for voter JR Hidalgo, 19, a squid balls vendor in Quezon City. “Gusto ko ’yung si Manny dahil mayaman siya, kaya ginagastos niya ’yung pera niya sa commercial, hindi ’yung pera ng mga tao, di ba? Hindi ’yun corrupt! (I like Manny Villar because he is rich and spends his own money on ads and not other people’s money. He is not corrupt),” Hidalgo said in an interview.

A November 2009 Supreme Court ruling nullifying the concept of premature campaigning was crucial in Villar’s timely rise before the start of the official campaign period.

The Supreme Court voided Section 80 o the Omnibus Election Code on premature campaigning. It said it cannot be applied for the May 2010 automated elections.

Without the last-minute ruling, Villar should have been forced to stop airing ads from Dec. 1, 2009, to February 9, 2010—the period between his filing of his certificate of candidacy and the start of the official campaign period.

In December 2009 alone, Villar spent P91 million, after a 66% discount on the rate-card amount of P267 million. His closest rival, Aquino, spent P24.94 million in ads.

(For the presidential elections in 2004, the deadline of filing of certificate of candidacies was on Dec. 31, 2003. Because of the poll automation in May, the Commission on Elections moved the deadline to December 1 to allow more time for the printing of ballots.)

The rest of the campaign period will show how far Villar’s ads can get him. It’s still a long way to go. Campaign period for the local elections has not even started. With reports from Maria Althea Teves, Newsbreak

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.