How following only the letter of the law promotes lawlessness
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-08-19
Premature election campaigning being conducted under the guise of product endorsements or advocacies can be expected to escalate the closer we get to 2010.

Even Bayani Fernando’s posters, which have no business being posted outside of the Metro Manila area, have been spotted in many provinces. I wonder if BF realizes that his pa-pogi posters are negated by those primetime news videos showing his MMDA demolishing the livelihood equipment and stocks of vendors.

Despite the flagrant violation of the spirit of the law about premature election campaigning, the Comelec absolved the alleged violators based on the letter of the law.

Based on the letter of the law, no violation could be proved. But then, it is that culture of heeding only the letter of the law where we can find the roots of our state of lawlessness.

My late father, who was a lawyer, told me many years ago that law abiding folks follow the spirit of the law and that folks who are forever scrutinizing the letter of the law are likely to be those seeking loopholes in order to skirt the law.

In our country, when those who commit highly profitable crimes like plunder scout for the best lawyer — they’re actually searching for the lawyer who will find the letter of the law that will get them off the hook. The limitations of language and whatever parameters have been set by the law provide the fertile ground for a wily legal beagle to exploit.

Because the law on premature election campaigning requires the identification (promotion) of a candidate for a stated public office, the source of those ads escaped prosecution and penalty. In other words, all Loren Legarda (et al) has to do is not to say “Vote Loren Legarda for President” and she can’t be accused of violating the law on premature election campaigning.

No matter how scandalous the obvious violation of the law — there is nothing that can be done because those who framed the law did not understand the full potential of advertising. The legislators did not realize that some of the most effective ads to ever emerge from Madison Avenue did not even suggest the actual consumption of the product.

The classic TV ads of Marlboro in the 1960s did not even say SMOKE MARLBORO CIGARETTES. That 1960s classic Volkswagen Beetle TV ad showing a VW Beetle floating on the swimming pool did not even say DRIVE A VOLKSWAGEN. It did not even suggest that you buy one. All it said was: “Even if the Volkswagen can definitely float, it cannot float indefinitely.” It was a classic case of admitting a shortcoming (cannot float indefinitely) in order to drive home a point of superiority (the VW beetle can float).

Loren Legarda (sorry Loren to use you as an example) can run a TV ad that projects her as a President, depicting the progress she is promising to deliver, even suggesting that God is endorsing her — but for so long as she does not say “Vote Loren Legarda for President” in the TV ad, then she is not violating the law (per the letter of the law).

But is that the right thing to do? Yes, it may be legal owing to the letter of the law — but is it ethical and moral?

A lot of the premature election campaigning that now proliferates all over expensive media are ads (TV and radio commercials, print ads, billboards, posters, etc) that are paid for by us, the taxpayers. William Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar — “That is the unkindest cut of all.” It is bad enough if your wife sleeps with your best friend. The hurt cuts deepest if they charge you for the cost of the motel.

There is a need for new legislation to cover the loopholes that allow these scandalous violations of the premature election campaigning law. The proposed new law should also cover the misuse of government agency ads to promote the political agenda of agency officials.

The new law should disallow the appearance of public officials in all government advertising materials — broadcast and print ads, posters and billboards. This will effectively curtail the misuse of public funds. The use of government agency ads should be strictly confined to informing the people on how to avail of the agency service(s) or how a new agency system/procedure works.

Using taxpayer money to promote the political agenda of a government official is a misuse of public funds which deserves no less than disqualification from running for public office and an indictment (with a corresponding penalty).

In the case using product ads as image builders and enhancers, the new law should set such endorsements as grounds for disqualification to run in the next election. In other words, those who will run in the next elections should not be allowed non-work-issue related advertising exposures that can give them undue advantage.

Those planning to run should confine their pre-election period media campaigns to opinion-editorial and news sections. They should earn the news coverage or commentary.

Considering the penchant of Filipinos to follow only the letter of the law — no less than this type of new legislation will solve this problem of premature election campaigning.

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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