Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 15 October 2014


In less than two years, the next president of the country will be elected. We are in the season of looking for viable candidates prior to the election. The vice president – Jejomar Binay – is the hot frontrunner among potential candidates.

Screening the list of candidates and winnowing them toward a much shorter list has now begun. The signs are clear. Investigations and reports concerning scandals in office put some of the prominent candidates on the hot seat.

The pork barrel, or PDAP, scandal has derailed the plans of some aspirants seriously. In particular, the pork barrel scandal which generated hefty commissions for certain legislators from projects associated with fictitious NGOs has seriously wounded the plans of ambitious senators, especially Jinggoy Estrada and Ramon Revilla, two prominent personalities mentioned as vying for high office.

Next, the recent Senate investigation of procurement practices in Makati has exposed the frontrunner, vice president Jejomar Binay, the former mayor of that city, and harmed his frontrunner status for the moment.

“Campaign finance money and its mobilization.” Running for high office requires financial resources that are often out of proportion to that are immediately available to the candidate. This leads to efforts to raise a large war chest to finance electoral battles.

The expense associated with elections is a tall order for any candidate. During the limited 90-day campaign period in the 2010 presidential election, a total of P4.3 billion was spent on media advertising by the candidates on print and TV media.

Of this, P1.1 billion was spent by the presidential candidates, P0.65 billion by the vice presidential candidates; and P1.5 billion by senators. (The figures are from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.)

About 90 percent of all the expenditure was made by the first three candidates for president. This was true of the expenses of the first three vice-presidential candidates.

Yet, media and advertisement costs comprise only one part of the expenses for an electoral campaign. These costs are associated with the end game. There are important expenditures associated with the early stages of participating in the election process.

Prior to the election stage, in-fighting and positioning among the candidates for office takes place which could entail huge expense for it would mean aligning political beliefs with intentions and with other candidates. Other costs include retaining a logistics and analysis staff to take care of unpredictable situations as well as dynamic developments during a campaign period.

Supporting a national, regional, and local staff represents a significant part of the campaign budget. An army of volunteers could be helpful, but there are paid staff, including leaders, that are often critical toward sustaining a candidacy, providing analysis, surveys as well as assessment of problems on the ground.

The larger the campaign war chest, the easier it is to meet with financial needs and coping with emergencies.

“Personality driven campaign finance mobilization.” Philippine democracy is not based on the strength of political parties, but on the personalities of the leaders. In general, the incumbents have greater influence in building the financial coffers for future elections. Consequently, campaign finance is less dependent on the party machinery as it is on the influence of leadership.

The party system was badly weakened by the martial law period when the political parties were disabled. The return of the old democratic institutions after the 1987 Constitution meant the comeback of political parties as well.

Political parties came back weaker in stature compared to the lead politicians. A consequence of this is that the political leader had a greater say in the building of financial coffers for his own survival. The lead politicians are the elected leaders – legislators and executives of local and national governments.

Along with this development was the strengthening of the position of political dynasties in local politics. To skirt the term limit provision in the Constitution, local positions were creatively spread and/or rotated among members of the same family.

This development further reinforced the control of campaign finance of the political dynasty by extending its power of patronage over a wide area of local governments and across a longer time span, hence further entrenching them in the local politics.

“Corrupting influences follow.” It is fair to ask whether the high incidence of corrupt practices in government is related to the electoral process. Petty corruption is probably more associated with poverty which could be isolated with an improvement in the conditions of work of government employees.

Massive or grand corruption is likely to be more associated with the electoral process. These types of malfeasance get built-in to contracts of services or supplies with the government and they involve sizable transfer of resources to beef up the campaign coffers of corrupt politicians.

Corrupted bidding processes are often designed so that they exclude parties that are able to supply competitive and superior bids. Danger lurks against the public interest when sweetheart deals are concluded giving excessive profits to suppliers.

“Is there hope for reform?” Electoral practices can improve the quality of outcomes when and if we can institute campaign finance reform. An element of a good campaign finance reform law is one that can put a limit on the size of campaign contributions.

The hidden mystery behind our elections is that we almost never know who control the actions of our leaders. They are the ones who give enormously during the election campaign. Who knows exactly what deals they have contracted in terms of future economic policy?

It goes without saying that if the justice system improves and is able to convict the guilty parties, somehow a positive outcome in the way we get to make our leaders behave better will ensue. If the justice system can demonstrate that it can punish politicians transgressing our laws, the lesson it can impart should substantially eliminate corruption among our political leaders.

In order to promote the healthy development of political alternative parties, some thought to government subsidy of campaign finance contributions might be useful.

Cleaner elections will follow if a genuine two-party system evolves. It could help reform the way politicians finance their candidacies.

But all these almost seem as if we are reforming society, a task that takes almost forever for most of us to see or hope for.