Comelec shouldn’t bite more than it could chew
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2013-01-29

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) deserves commendation for seeking ways to democratize election campaigns, specifically by rationalizing the resources factor that give wealthy candidates undue advantage. Admittedly, one of these is in the area of propaganda or as they prefer to call it — advertising. 

Unless one is a Ninoy Aquino and can generate banner headlines every week that deliver positive attributes to one’s public image, a national candidate without television ad support has only two chances to win — none and nil. With today’s addiction of television networks to sex, scandal and celebrity conflict stories, the national candidate can hardly maximize on generating exposure and awareness through the news coverage.

One area that the Comelec has failed to address is the shamefully disguised pre-election period television campaigns of the wealthy candidates. These pre-election campaign spenders hide behind the legal excuse that their television commercials do not ask people to vote for them for a specific position. Can’t Comelec deduct these ads from the candidate’s allocation during the real campaign period? There should be a law!

Migz Zubiri uses an environment campaign as his cover. Cynthia Villar uses a livelihood program as her platform. The list goes on. The effort is undertaken to get ahead of the pack and reinforce top of mind awareness. It’s legalized cheating, if you ask me, and the Comelec has utterly failed to set guidelines and sanctions to curb these pre-election campaign activities. 

If it’s not bad enough that the Comelec has failed to curb pre-election campaign spending — they now promulgated new guidelines for candidate promotions or advertising that made it harder to win for those who didn’t undertake pre-election campaign spending. The reduction of television airtime allowance from 120 minutes per network to 120 minutes for all networks is too drastic. If you were employing only the top 3 television networks in your media plan, this new guideline effectively reduced your allowance to only one-third.

The networks that have been benefitting from election ads have good reasons to complain. With just 120 minutes for the entire campaign period, the tendency would be to use all these in the top television network. The lesser rating networks will only receive bookings if the top network could no longer accommodate the television ads after reaching their allowable commercial load factor per program. Inadvertently, the Comelec has promoted a virtual monopoly of national campaign television ads.

We should all feel uncomfortable with the way the Comelec has also interfered with media editorial policy by setting unrealistic guidelines on who can be covered or invited as guests and by mandating the right to reply that our legislators have not even promulgated as a law. This Comelec interference in editorial policy can be considered as prior restraint, something that’s frowned upon by our Constitution.

How can the Comelec stop a media entity from covering a sensational candidate more than the lackluster ones? Media are naturally attracted to sensational candidates simply because they’re more news worthy. If there’s a Ninoy Aquino among the senatorial candidates — how can media be mandated to give more coverage to the JC de los Reyes types? That’s interfering with editorial policy and giving the incompetent candidate a free ride.

The Comelec should just be monitoring total election spending. The poll body shouldn’t interfere with how candidates spend their respective allowed expenses. The Comelec shouldn’t be imposing rules and guidelines that could effectively alter campaign strategy. The campaign camps should be allowed to shift, according to strategy, more monies for television ads and exceed the 120 minutes allowed.

If Comelec regulated a battle between two armies, the Comelec should only prescribe limits to the number of combatants, and should allow each side to determine resource management that would conform to a perceived winning strategy. 

JPE erodes his own public image

It was disappointing, to say the least, to see on television Senate President Juan Ponce-Enrile (JPE) resort to personal matters in his January 23 face off with Senate Minority leader, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. Why did JPE have to bring up a supposed debt to their law office of Sen. Cayetano’s father — the late Senator Rene “Companero” Cayetano? It’s going against Filipino culture and frowned upon to attack a dead person.

In the end, JPE had to accept Cayetano’s proposed independent audit of senate expenses. So what’s the fuss all about? My friend Johnty Lammoglia noted how JPE redeemed his stature during the Rene Corona impeachment trial, only to reduce it to rubble with this recent word war with senators Miriam Santiago and Alan Peter Cayetano. 

JPE, through the years, has struck me as a person who lives by the dictum that the best defense is to launch a powerful counter offensive. Dictator Ferdinand Marcos, JPE’s former boss, had acted in like manner. That could work if you have valid issues to use against your accuser but if you have vulnerabilities that can be used against you — damage control should be your priority.

Damage control would require getting media attention off your person immediately. Answering an issue with the wrong spiel only adds fuel to the controversy and prolongs it.

* * *

Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

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A great disservice to P-Noy

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