Election officers admit reforms needed

Commissioner Luie Guia said the Omnibus Election Code’s prohibition on accepting campaign donations from certain corporations does not extend to corporate officers or directors. There is also no cap on the amount of campaign donations that candidates could accept.

By RONALYN V. OLEA
Bulatlat.com

MANILA – – Two Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioners admitted that reforms are needed to make the poll body more effective in running after violators of election laws.

Speaking during the press briefing of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Oct. 4, Commissioner Luie Guia said the Omnibus Election Code’s prohibition on accepting campaign donations from certain corporations does not extend to corporate officers or directors.

A study by the PCIJ revealed that the biggest donors for senatorial candidates include personalities in the extractive industries and public works contractors with pending government contracts. Under the Omnibus Election Code, these corporations, as well as those who have been granted franchises, incentives, exemptions, allocations or similar privileges or concessions by the government or any of its divisions, subdivisions or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations are prohibited from giving donations to candidates.

Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim of the Campaign Finance Unit (CFU) said it is a loophole in the law that needs to be plugged. He said that corporate officers or directors of corporations should also be prohibited from giving donations to candidates.

Lawyer Rona Ann Caritos of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) agreed, saying: “The spirit and intent of the law is to prevent undue influence to the government,” Caritos told Bulatlat.com in an interview.

Both Guia and Caritos also said there should be a cap on donations. “In other countries, they have laws setting limitations on donations,” Guia said. “We do not have one.”

According to the PCIJ, in the United States, the contribution limit set by the U.S. Federal Election Commission in 2013 for individual donations was only $2,600, or roughly P106,600.

Based on the Statements of Election Contributions and Expenditures of 13 senatorial candidates, more than 500 donors contributed over a million pesos to their favored candidates. Some gave tens of millions of pesos.

Guia also proposed a subsidy for political parties and candidates. This, he said can be a means to spread responsibility in campaign spending. “In other countries, they provide subsidies for political parties. They want candidates to campaign, so that the electorate would know their platform. We’d rather have this than [having] private interests [funding the campaign] which could engender conflict of interest.”

Cases underway

Lim said the Comelec would submit within this month a report to the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) for the removal of winning candidates who have not filed their Statements of Election Contributions and Expenditures.

Lim said there are some candidates in the position now who have not filed anything. The deadline for the submission of Statements of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SOCEs) was June 30.

By November, Lim said the poll body will file charges of election offense and by December, the Comelec will file perpetual disqualification cases against repeat offenders and will impose administrative fines, if warranted.

Lim said the Comelec could not afford to file cases only to lose. “We want tight-proof cases,” he said.

Comelec overwhelmed

Lim explained why it is taking the poll body so long to file charges against violators. He said the volume of documents is enormous and the Comelec’s Campaign Finance Unit has limited personnel and resources. There are only 25 casual employees hired by the finance unit and its budget will expire at the end of this year.

At this stage, the Comelec is still in the process of checking initial compliance of the rule regarding the filing of Statements of Election Contributions and Expenditures.

Guia said there is a need to revisit laws about the Comelec structure. He said the law states that local government units shall provide the structure for Comelec’s field offices. “This is a big issue,” Guia said. “Comelec should be independent.”

Guia said there are cases where the local chief executive is hostile to the Comelec thus, the field office was placed in a public market.
Lente’s Caritos said the Comelec should be provided additional budget to protect its independence and integrity. ()

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