POSTSCRIPT / March 9, 2010 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Ruling on poll spending may be legal, but wrong

PENERA RULE: Conscientious objectors to the scandalous overspending of some presidential candidates can only blame the Supreme Court resolution that overturned its previous decision in the Penera vs Comelec case on campaign offenses.

The High Court ruled on Nov. 25, 2009, that campaign activities, presumably including throwing away billions in overkill advertising, are not illegal if done before the campaign period that began last Feb. 9 for national and Party-list positions.

So when submitting to the Commission on Elections a post-election accounting of their campaign expenses, presidential candidates need not include the billions they spent before Feb. 9 to advance their candidacy.

That Penera vs Comelec ruling may be legal, because it hews to the letter of RA 8436 as amended by RA 9369 (all election laws), but it is stupid, contrary to common sense and injurious to public interest.

What the Supreme Court declares to be legal is not always right.

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SIMPLE, STUPID: The SC ruling is really simple, in fact too simplistic — that since the law says that an aspirant for public office is not legally a candidate until the start of the campaign period, he cannot be held to account for what he did before that.

(With Feb. 8 as the campaign start for national offices, the campaign for local posts, including House seats, begins March 26. The campaign for national and Party-list posts lasts 90 days. For local positions it is 45 days.)

If a candidate plasters the town with posters and tarpaulins, sponsors daily motorcades and stage shows, distributes lunch packs, spends a million pesos daily for advertising, all that is legal and cannot be considered overspending – if committed before the campaign period.

The same acts that are criminal and punishable during the so-called election period are not criminal and punishable if committed before the official campaign.

Isn’t that stupid?

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BLAME CONGRESS: For fellow non-lawyers — the Penera being mentioned here is Rosalinda A. Penera who was disqualified by the Court in its decision of Sept. 11, 2009, as mayor of Sta. Monica, Surigao del Norte, for supposed campaign infractions.

She filed a motion for reconsideration, which the SC granted on Nov. 25, 2009. The Court ruled that election offenses can be committed by a candidate only during the campaign period, that before the start of the campaign, election offenses cannot be so committed.

The Court said it has no power to ignore the mandate of the law that “any person who files his Certificate of Candidacy within (the filing) period shall only be considered a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his (CoC).”

“The forum for examining the wisdom of the law and enacting remedial measures,” the SC said, “is not this Court but the Legislature.”

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IMPUNITY: Now we have this spectacle of candidates violating with impunity, before the start of the election campaign, the spirit of the law on illegal campaign practices.

What is to be done with some presidential candidates who pour out billions in TV ads and other campaign expenses before Feb. 9, but rein in their visible expenses to the level allowed by unrealistic laws when the campaign period sets in?

(Just like some drivers who race at 150 kilometers per hour on the expressway, then slow down to the prescribed 100 kph limit when they spot a highway patrol car.)

We asked Comelec Commissioner Ferdinand Rafanan why the poll body follows what is clearly a defective ruling, pointing out that an act may be legal but not necessarily right. He said the Comelec tried to insist on Penera’s disqualification but lost.

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START WITH COC FILING: But the situation is not that hopeless, if the public decides to insist on what it thinks is right regardless of what the Supreme Court says.

The spending limits are P10 per voter for a presidential candidate and P5 per voter for his party. With some 50 million voters, the legal limit is P15 mltiplied by 50 million, or P750 million.

Now when we see, and are able to document, that billions are being spent by some candidates, that calls for resolute action – maybe for their disqualification or a campaign for not voting for them.

Also, we should insist that the reckoning period should not be confined to the campaign period. The accounting should start on the day the candidate files his Certificate of Candidacy, because on that day he has explicitly declared his political intention.

Running and campaigning for public office is a continuing act that clearly and logically begins with the filing of the CoC.

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PHC FUNDS: The case between the publicly-owned Philcomsat Holding Corp. and a giant bank in Makati over PHC funds has taken an interesting turn. The Makati Regional Court hearing the case has issued subpoenas for:

* Submission of PHC financial statements and checks (front and back) covering over P102 million allegedly dissipated by previous board officers claiming Palace connection and authority from the Presidential Commission on Good Government.

* Personal appearance of the bank’s president and chief executive officer in the next hearing on March 12 to explain the release of PHC funds despite repeated advice to hold them.

The PHC is questioning the disbursements despite 10 letters to the bank, a court decision and a writ of execution throwing out the old discredited officers. Much of the P102 million was reportedly in checks issued to “Cash” and encashed by a messenger.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 9, 2010)

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