By Jake Crisologo
Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
THEY WISH to lead the nation but refuse to comply even with the most basic rules: Report to the Commission on Elections how much money they raised and spent in their campaign for public office, one month after election day. In fact, they have mocked the rules not just once but twice, and for some, thrice, in elections past.
At least 873 candidates who ran for national and local posts from the 2007 to the 2013 elections should be banned for life from running again, according to the Commission on Elections’ Campaign Finance Office (CFO). This is because these candidates had not filed their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) in the last three elections.
Indeed, while they may contest the ruling of the CFO, for all intents and purposes, their names remain enrolled in the Comelec’s list of candidates for “perpetual disqualification.” Win or lose, the Comelec has ruled that all candidates and parties must file SOCEs.
Yet at least 95 of these seem truly incorrigible, and are running again in the May 2016 elections. They include one candidate for senator, eight for district representative, eight for governor, at least 33 for mayor, 11 for vice mayor, and 34 for councilor of various cities and towns.
Resolution No. 9991, the Omnibus Rules on Campaign Finance that Comelec issued on Oct. 2, 2015, states that on its own, the CFO “may file petitions to disqualify” a candidate, including for failure to submit his or her SOCE “in relation to at least two elections.”
In that situation, Rule 13 of Resolution No. 9991, spells out the penalty as being “perpetual disqualification to hold public office.”
Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim, head of Comelec’s CFO, concedes, though, that the delinquents may still turn to “due process” as their final recourse and contest or appeal his office’s decision.
Mostly local bets
Comelec data show that by position, the list of delinquent candidates is dominated by candidates to local positions. They make up 75 percent of the total.
At least 680 have sought seats as councilor in various Sangguniang Bayan or Municipal Council (530 candidates), Sangguniang Panglungsod or City Council (150 candidates), and Sangguniang Panlalawigan or Provincial Council (120 candidates).
Another 123 had run for vice mayor, 116 for mayor, 11 for vice governor, 19 for governor, and seven for membership in the regional assembly of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or ARMM.
In addition, 41 of these delinquent candidates had aspired to become members of the House of Representatives, and one, to be senator.
The total number of candidates by position at 1,100 is higher than actual number of individuals because some of the same candidates had run for different positions across election years.
A fourth from ARMM
Interestingly, by regional spread, one in four of the delinquent candidates, or 212, came from ARMM. But defiance of election law seems to be an epidemic across all the regions of the Philippines.
Other regions with delinquent candidates include: CALABARZON, 94 candidates; Davao Region, 90; Cordillera Administrative Region, 81; Central Luzon, 60; SOCCSKSARGEN, 60; National Capital Region, 59; Western Visayas, 36; Ilocos Region, 28; Cagayan Valley, 33; Central Visayas, 25; MIMAROPA, 24; Eastern Visayas, 21; Northern Mindanao, 19; Zamboanga Peninsula, 17; Bicol Region,16; and Caraga, seven.
(The delinquents from the relatively new Negros Island Region were included in the counts from Western and Central Visayas or Negros Occidental and Oriental. These two now make up Negros Island Region, which was formed only on May 19, 2015 by virtue of Executive Order No. 183.)
The count per region and per province of 882 candidates is closer to the calculated number of individuals at 873, which was derived from subtracting the number of repeated names for candidates who had run in two or more localities.
A big majority of these delinquent candidates had run as independents, or without any political party affiliation.
From parties of presidents
An interesting picture emerges for a subgroup of 131 delinquent candidates who had run for district representative, governor, and vice governor from the 2007 to the 2013 elections, including 18 candidates running again in the May 2016 elections.
In this subgroup, 87 are independents but a significant number had run as candidates of the national political parties led by the incumbent and former presidents of the country:
- Eleven of the delinquents in this subgroup ran as candidates of the Liberal Party (LP) of President Benigno S. Aquino III;
- Eight from the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) of ousted President Joseph Estrada that is part of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance;
- Six from the Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI) of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo;
- Seven from the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) party of deposed President Ferdinand Marcos; and
- Five from the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) of former President Fidel Ramos.
The more prominent names in the list of delinquents include erstwhile rebel leader Nur Misuari who ran for governor of Sulu province in 2007 and 2010, and again for regional governor of ARMM in 2013. In all three instances, Misuari ran as an independent candidate. And in all three instances, too, he did not file his election spending report.
Yet another is Macario Asistio Jr., who ran for vice mayor in 2010, and mayor in 2013, of Caloocan City, and on both occasions failed to submit his SOCE to the Comelec.
Still a third is Ismael ‘Chuck’ Mathay III, sole son of former long-time Quezon City Mayor Ismael Mathay Jr. Chuck Mathay ran and won as representative of Quezon City’s 2nd District in 2007 and 2010 and, like Asistio, failed to file his SOCE both times.
Running once more
From the roster of delinquent candidates come a few who have again filed their candidacies for various posts in the May 2016 elections. They include
- Kadra Asana Masihul, KBL, Sulu, who ran for provincial governor in 2013, now running for Board Member in the 1st District of Sulu;
- Albert Hans Corvera Palacios, Independent, 4th District Quezon City, who is running for the same position; he ran under the PMP banner in 2013;
- Pablo Camabrejan Villabar, KBL, Davao del Sur, running again for first district representative as an independent as in the 2013 elections;
- Amin Guintawan Sindao, independent, North Cotabato, running again for third district representative;
- Telesforo Magramo Gaan, independent candidate for governor of Romblon;
- Delfina Dorman Bicatulo, independent candidate for governor of Bukidnon;
- Ahmadjan Marogong Abdulcarim, independent candidate for governor of Lanao Del Sur;
- Justo III Hernandez Orros, independent candidate for vice governor of La Union; and
- Morsalim Alap-Polao Binnortominoray, Liberal Party candidate for vice governor of Lanao Del Sur, but independent candidate in 2013.
The lone candidate for senator, Greco Belgica, had challenged the inclusion of his name in the Comelec’s disqualification list when it first came out in December 2015.
In a text message, he told the Philippine Daily Inquirer: “I filed and signed my SOCE in 2007 and 2013 so I cannot be charged for not filing my SOCE. Someone must be manipulating the records. The question is who?”
Belgica, a Manila city councilor from 2004 to 2007, was a lead petitioner in a case that was filed before the Supreme Court in 2013 questioning the constitutionality of the pork-barrel system.
According to PulseAsia Research President Ronald Holmes, who is also a political science professor at De La Salle University, the presence of a big majority of “independent” candidates in the list of delinquents illustrates the weakness of the political party system in the country.
Notably, too, many of the candidates on the list have shifted from one to another political party across election years. This is consistent, Holmes says, with the culture of “turncoatism” or the relative ease by which politicians affiliate with different, but usually the dominant, political parties, during regime shifts.
“We don’t have substantive political parties in this country,” says Holmes. “They are basically absent. The large number of independents is not surprising and may simply mean that one does not have to be affiliated to run, and maybe even win, during the elections.”
When one considers the dynamics between politicians once they are in office, however, a different picture emerges.
At a recent public forum, Ateneo School of Government Dean Ronald Mendoza tackled political turncoatism by the candidates in regard to their quest for resources during election campaigns.
“On the local level, for example, it would be easier to engage the national government if you are allied with the current dominant party,” Mendoza said. “This can be in terms of resources, like budgets, and approvals for policies and contracts you want in your jurisdiction.”
No party discipline
This is not necessarily incongruous to Holmes’s assessment of the weakness of political parties during elections. Holmes even expresses little optimism when asked if political parties should or could be held responsible for policing their members who did not file their SOCEs.
“The parties themselves do not have that discipline,” he says. “Even at the national level, the dominating party is not necessarily strong or unified.”
For instance, after the May 2010 elections, “the Liberal Party was dominant but they couldn’t agree on who among them was supposed to be Senate President,” Holmes points out. “So someone not from the party took the position.”
Juan Ponce Enrile of the Nacionalista Party was elected Senate President in 2010 by a fragile coalition of political parties in the Upper Chamber.
Even the past presidents have had a history of party switching, Holmes says, adding that, “independence” is primarily a legal label than an individuality of thought or principles. Being an independent candidate, he says, simply means one was not formally nominated or affiliated with a party.
In Holmes’s book, it is highly possible that a majority of “independent” candidates on the list of delinquents may have had informal connections with the established political parties.
“They may,” he says. “This is largely determined by the dynamics on the ground and how they engage each other to achieve their goals. Take Grace Poe, for example. She’s currently independent but she may be ‘adopted’ by present political parties in the long run.”
Clans drive politics
But could, or should, delinquent candidates be allowed to run for office again?
Holmes voices concern that other than Comelec, political clans continue to drive the choice of candidates and the results of elections in many parts of the country.
“There are many powerful families and they can take control of representation mechanisms in their territories,” he observes. “The head of a political clan can determine what happens more than any external body, the Commission on Elections included.”
In areas where virulent clans with private armies rule, election officials may be hard put enforcing Comelec’s decision to disqualify delinquent candidates.
Still and all, in October 2015, when Comelec first came out with its initial list of delinquent candidates, CFO head Commissioner Lim had declared the poll body’s commitment to uphold the rule of law.
He told reporters that it was the first time Comelec had spelled out rules on the filing of petitions for disqualification of candidates who had failed to submit election spending reports to the poll body.
But because the rules provide the delinquents the opportunity to file appeals, Comelec can only collect and impose fines on such candidates until the CFO’s decision becomes final and executory.
Schedule of fines
On June 12, 2012, in Resolution No. 9476, Comelec said that for failure to file SOCEs for the first time, candidates, depending on the elective post they had run for, must pay an administrative fine ranging from P1,000 to P30,000, and for the second offense, from P2,000 to P60,000.
That could mean a tidy sum for Comelec – that is, if it does go after the delinquents to collect the fines and the candidates actually pay up.
For the 2013 elections alone, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista had told reporters that 4,677 or about one in 10 of the candidates who ran for elective positions (net of the party-list groups) had failed to file their SOCEs, as of the deadline of July 2013. Bautista’s estimate is that the poll body could raise up to P52 million in fines from these delinquents.
But until the Comelec’s decision to perpetually bar these candidates from running for public office, becomes final and executory, there is only one, final, true judge and jury on these cases: the Filipino voter. – PCIJ, April 2016
For details, check out PCIJ’s Money Politics Online