Bill on cheaper political ads closer to becoming law

MANILA, Philippines – A bill seeking bigger discounts on political advertisements during elections is expected to become a law before the May 13, 2019 polls, after the Senate and the House of Representatives separately approved it.

The Senate approved Senate Bill 1985 on Monday, October 1, while the House approved House Bill 6604 on December 12, 2017.

The bill is now pending before the bicameral conference committee to thresh out differences in the two versions. The final version would then be submitted to President Rodrigo Duterte for signing into law.

The two bills seek to amend the existing Fair Elections Act or Republic Act 9006, by requiring bigger discount rates for TV and radio ads provided by media outlets to bona fide candidates during an election period.

HB 6604 mandates media outlets to provide registered political parties and eligible candidates a 50% discount on political ads on television, radio and print during the campaign period.

SB 1985 – sponsored by reelectionist Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chair of the electoral reforms committee – proposes a 30% to 40% discount on television ads and 20% to 30% for radio ads. Pimentel’s bill also requires that the discount given to one candidate must be the same given to other candidates for the same position "in the name of parity and fair play."

“Free expression of our people’s will is better ventilated during an election period if all those who vie for the votes of our people are undeterred in delivering their messages to their voters, especially if the deterrence is the prohibitive cost…. Candidates and political parties participating in future elections will now have more opportunities to communicate their messages to the electorate in all forms of the so-called mainstream media," Pimentel said.

Pimentel said political advertisements should be “part of the social responsibility of media outlets,” since the true purpose of these advertisements is "to educate the electorate about the qualifications, platforms, and track records of political candidates."

He also allayed fears that the discounts would afford well-funded candidates and political parties more exposure, pointing out that existing laws would still limit the maximum air time and print space for election candidates.

The Commission on Elections has set the campaign period for senators and party-list groups from February 12 to May 11, 2019. For congressional, regional, and local candidates, the campaign period is from March 30  to May 11, 2019. –

Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is a multimedia reporter focusing on media, technology, and disinformation.