Villar, Aquino exceed ad airtime limit, says private watchdog

Villar, Aquino exceed ad airtime limit, says private watchdog
By Nikko Dizon
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—(UPDATE) The two leading presidential candidates in the May 2010 elections have already exceeded the 120-minute air time limit on political advertisements alloted to them in each of the country’s top two television networks, a consortium of non-government organizations monitoring candidates’ campaign spending said Friday.

Based on data provided by AC Nielsen, the Pera at Pulitika Network reported in a press conference that Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Sen. Manuel Villar has aired political advertisements with a total of 128.25 minutes over GMA-7 and 122.5 minutes on ABS-CBN.

His strongest rival for the presidency, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III of the Liberal Party, has 118 minutes of ads aired over GMA-7 and 129 minutes on ABS-CBN.

Deposed President Joseph Estrada has aired 77.50 minutes worth of ads over ABS-CBN and 65 minutes on GMA 7; Sen. Richard Gordon (Bagumbayan Party), 52 minutes on ABS-CBN and 43 minutes on GMA-7; former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro (Lakas-Kampi-CMD), 3.50 minutes on ABS-CBN and 4 minutes on GMA 7; and evangelist Eddie Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas Movement), 3.50 minutes on ABS-CBN and 1.00 minute on GMA-7.

A candidate for a national position is entitled to 120 minutes of political advertising on each TV network.

Pera at Pulitika executive director, lawyer Roberto Cadiz, said that it was up to the Commission on Elections to prosecute erring candidates.

“We are a monitoring group. Our primary duty is to report to the media the compliance of the candidates and the parties to campaign finance laws. The primary responsibility of prosecuting the ‘violators’ rests with the Comelec,” Cadiz said.

He also said that candidates and political parties were welcome “dispute the data” presented by his group to the media, adding that it was possible there could be discrepancies in the monitoring of Nielsen as happened on one occasion when the media monitoring company corrected data it had uploaded on its website.

In a statement, Villar denied he has exceeded the airtime limit.

“The reports may give the wrong impression in the minds of the public. I’d like to believe that there was inadvertent mistake in the counting of our TV airtime, perhaps by adding the NP TV ads in the count,” Villar said.

Villar’s “Dagat ng Basura” and “Puedeng Mangarap” ads dominated the air time alloted to him, said veteran journalist Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigate Journalism, a Pera at Pulitika Network partner.

“Overall, money seems to be working for Villar, if you go by the way he went up in his ratings and if you correlate it with the billions he has spent creatively or otherwise. We have monitored that among all the candidates, Senator Villar has been the most creative in projecting himself in the media,” Cadiz said.

Pera at Pulitika pointed out earlier that a partylist group for children’s advocacy, Akap Bata, has used Villar’s popular “Dagat ng Basura” TV ad with a few modifications.

“Unless he [Villar] will dispute that Akap Bata’s campaign ads are not similar to [his ad], then we will have an argument. But if you will agree that Akap Bata is very similar to Villar’s political ads then you would have to give it to Senator Villar for being very creative. He is able to project himself as a candidate and spend an additional 60.5 minutes under Akap Bata’s name,” Cadiz said.

Moreover, there are ambiguities in interpreting the law which candidates and political parties appear to have taken advantage of.

Mangahas called these the “smorgasbord ads,” which feature a presidential candidate with his running mate and/or with their senatorial candidates.

“The smorgasbord ads have begun. It’s turning to that and they’re trying really to run around the law so they have additional credits. The law says the political party may spend P5 per registered voter. The assumption is that’s the spending for all the candidates of the political party. But what is happening is they assign the credit to different candidates of the party,” Mangahas said.

However, she pointed out that viewers still see the presidential candidate giving the final statement in the ad.

“He’s the last frame or recall element of the ad. So should this be counted to the senatorial candidates or the presidential candidate… They razzle-dazzle the law so that they (presidential candidates) would still have credits,” Mangahas said.

Cadiz said that Pera at Pulitika would be drafting a letter to the Comelec asking the poll body to “clarify” and issue a ruling on how the monitoring of political ads should really be done.

The importance of monitoring how much the candidates use their air time, or spend for their political advertisements, is to “actually shed light on… the perils of spending too much on elections,” Mangahas said.

“All of the candidates generally would tell us that they aim to lift the poor and they are spokespersons of the poor. But one candidate is spending P4 million a day [in advertisements] and another is spending P3.5 million a day. All together, top candidates are spending P7 million to 10 million a day. You could imagine the amounts of money that could have gone to direct resources,” Mangahas said.

She pointed out that a President receives a monthly salary of P60,000 a month or not more than P3.5 million throughout his six-year term in office.

This raises the question of how they would recover the amount they have spent or on the other hand, what would their fund donors expect in return if the candidate wins, Mangahas said.

“My thought is this is really a crucial peg to promoting good governance. We are highlighting these figures because we think this is really a lot of money spent on vanity and self-promotion of the candidates. I don’t think this is going directly to servicing or improving the lives of the poor in the Philippines,” she said.

Karen Ang

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