POSTSCRIPT / June 25, 2009 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Comelec must check rampant political ads

PORKY PEN: It was bound to happen. With the Congress drowning in pork, it was inevitable that a swine-like Influenza (A[H1N1]) virus would hit the House of Representatives.

It was unfair that the first flu fatality at the Batasan was not a congressman, but a 49-year-old lady employee assigned to a House committee. She was the first flu death in the country and the whole of Asia.

It is interesting that the second victim, also not a congressman but a key member of the planning and budget department, was found infected after coming from Malacañang. The report did not say if the virus was stashed in a brown paper bag.

Meanwhile, the health department yesterday reported having counted 604 cases of Influenza A(H1N1) in the country, the highest national score in the region..

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FREE VACCINE: As expected, when it was reported that House personnel were given free flu shots, many taxpayers asked why only the solons’ support staffs were so privileged.

What about the rest of us taxpayers who have to pay for the vaccine?

A giant drug company, we were told, has donated to the Department of Health a huge pile of vaccines. Who is using these professional samples?

Related point: If the vaccines sold in drugstores or dispensed by health workers are not for A(H1N1) flu, the recipients should be told. The pandemic scare fanned by authorities themselves is helping sell even the vaccines not intended for swine flu.

Vaccinated individuals might get a false sense of security that they are shielded by a broad-spectrum drug against all strains of flu.

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SHORTER SESSION: Reacting to the flu breakout in his backyard, Speaker Prospero Nograles, who was abroad, phoned instructions that work in the House be suspended until June 28.

A better idea would be for the Congress to go back to the old practice of holding a regular session of only 100 days each year, subject to special sessions being called by the President if needed. (Or make that six months.)

An improvement to that would be to pay legislators ONLY FOR WORK DONE during those six months. Just imagine the savings! After all, that is the same pay-for-work rule they have imposed on us workers in the private sector.

Lawmakers should discipline themselves and, within that half-year schedule, give priority to urgent measures. During that dedicated period, they should not stray to non-legislative and non-priority activities.

More than quantity, we want quality. More than an avalanche of new legislation, we need resolute enforcement of existing laws.

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POLITICAL ADS: The premature radio-TV campaign ads of government officials who had announced their intention to run for president continue to be broadcast, and nobody — not even the Commission on Elections — seems to mind.

The excuse is that we are not yet into the campaign season and the aspirants-advertisers have not filed their certificates of candidacy. So, it is argued, they are not candidates yet and they are not campaigning.

It is incredible that supposedly learned regulatory officials swallow this crap.

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LOOPHOLES: With the brazen violation of the spirit of the law regulating political advertising, there is clear need for immediately plugging the loopholes in the implementing rules.

There should be a serious effort to check on the early birds. More so if the advertising, or the person-subject of the ad, is in government or a government corporation.

Immediately, these advertisers on TV and in print ads should be required to add a declaration, even in fine print at the bottom of the frame, as to who is paying for the ad.

It might be a different story if the candidate is spending his own money and undertakes to report the expense in his post-election disclosure to the Comelec. Whatever it is, the advertiser should be required to make a declaration in the ad itself.

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PAGCOR CASE: An interesting sample is that of Chairman Efraim Genuino of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp. who has announced his intention to run for president in 2010 and then launched a massive advertising campaign.

Questions: Who pays for all those expensive TV ads promoting his face, name and image? Is it PAGCOR or Genuino personally? Does big-time gambling have to be advertised on mass media? How truthful are those ads showing heavily edited pictures of crowds? Why does Genuino always paste beside him the picture of President Arroyo?

Other presidential TV advertisers, although not similarly situated, are: Vice President Noli de Castro, Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, senators Manny Villar and Mar Roxas, and MMDA chairman Bayani Fernando. There may be others, but I have not noticed them.

They should be made to answer reasonable questions about their early advertising.

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OPEN VIOLATIONS: Does the Comelec bother to examine the sworn financial reports of candidates? It seems that the poll body acts on the submitted documents only if there is a complaint filed against the candidates.

As the constitutional body overseeing elections, including the conduct of the campaign, the Comelec should act even motu proprio (of its own accord) when a preliminary scanning of a financial report indicates something amiss.

With elections being held every three years and with thousands of candidates running for public office every time, there should be an independent Comelec watchdog doing nothing but go through the financial reports with a fine-toothed comb.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 25, 2009)

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