MONITOR: Senate bets' TV ads a week before 2019 campaign period

MANILA, Philippines – They just couldn't wait, could they? 

Many senatorial candidates for the May 13, 2019, elections have already spent money on TV ads, as well as billboards, even before the official start of the campaign period on Tuesday, February 12. 

However, these ads cannot be charged yet against these well-moneyed candidates. The Supreme Court ruling Peñera vs. Comelec consider them official candidates only during the campaign period. 

As a result, their pre-campaign spending and airtime are not part of what the Commission on Elections (Comelec) monitors and regulates, in accordance with campaign finance rules and the Fair Elections Act. 

Here's a sample of what some senatorial candidates spent money on TV ads before the official campaign period.

Rappler monitored the commercial breaks during primetime or early evening newscasts – among the mostly-watched TV timeslots – of two major networks, ABS-CBN's "TV Patrol" and GMA's "24 Oras," airing in Metro Manila from February 5 to 11, a full week before the campaign period.

We also checked similar newscasts on TV5 and CNN Philippines, but no political ads aired during their commercial breaks.

Switch between the total number of ads and the combined length of TV ads for a senatorial candidate by pressing the tabs below.

In our monitoring, both administration and opposition bets aired pre-campaign ads. A total of 11 senatorial candidates had TV ads during the commercial breaks of primetime newscasts.

Former presidential aide Bong Go and 2016 presidential candidate Mar Roxas tied for the most number of TV ads, with 18 each.

They are followed by reelectionist Senator Cynthia Villar and former senators Pia Cayetano and Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr with 10 each.

Meanwhile, Villar had the longest cumulative TV ad airtime, clocking in a combined 10 minutes, or 10 one-minute ads. She is followed by Roxas with a total of 9 minutes, then by Go with a total of 7 minutes. Go's ads were a mix of 15-second and 30-second ads, while Roxas' were all 30-second ads.

A day before the observation period, on February 4, the Liberal Party had 3 TV ads for their 8-person Senate slate named "Otso Diretso": two 15-second ads in GMA and one 30-second ad in ABS-CBN. However, their ads did not play from February 5 to 11 during the primetime newscasts.

Besides having unregulated spending and airtime, these candidates have also gotten away with not telling which person or group spent for the ads. In these pre-campaign ads, only the generic phrase "This is a paid advertisement" was displayed.

Once the official campaign period begins, Comelec will require all candidates to state or display who paid for their ads. All candidates would also have to abide by the airtime and expenditure limits set by Comelec. – Michael Bueza, with interns Jaime Babiera, Christian James Concepcion, Ann Rei Conte, Jeanne dela Cruz, Gethsemani Cindy Gorospe, and Veronica Pascual/Rappler.com