Comelec warns bets: Spending meter starts running

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) warned candidates to watch their expenses starting Tuesday, February 9, when the campaign season officially begins.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista compared the poll body’s election monitoring process to a taxi meter. 

"Many things have been happening the past several months that already partake of campaigning. But really, the difference is that the meter starts to run in respect of their expenditures," Bautista told reporters Monday, February 8.

He also reminded politicians to remove their illegal campaign materials in public thoroughfares. Otherwise, police and other officials will take these down, the elections chief said.

Bautista was referring to the "unofficial" campaign period that has run for months before the official campaign season began. (READ: Campaign period for nat'l bets starts Feb 9, so what?)

Even before Tuesday, candidates have spent millions on advertisements.

Despite this, the Comelec could do nothing to penalize early campaigners. The poll body said premature campaigning is not an election offense because of a controversial Supreme Court ruling. (READ: Why 'candidates' can spend so much and not report it)

Disqualifying offenders

Starting Tuesday, however, the Comelec can start monitoring the candidates’ election expenses.

The law allows presidential and vice presidential candidates, for instance, to spend only P10 per voter. Election watchdogs have criticized this “unrealistic” spending cap.

In recent years under its Campaign Finance Unit, the Comelec has boosted its drive to monitor campaign expenses. 

The Comelec, in fact, earlier ordered then Laguna Governor Emilio Ramon Ejercito to step down after he exceeded the campaign expenses allowed by law. The Supreme Court later upheld Ejercito’s disqualification.

In October 2015, the Comelec also tagged hundreds of candidates "for perpetual disqualification" after they failed to report their campaign expenses in two previous polls.

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

image