THE months and weeks are inching closer to the national elections. And here I am, stuck to a few candidates at the Bacolod senatorial level. I have yet to make up my mind on my presidentiable.

I want to base my choice not on emotionalism, but on what the candidates did in the past to foretell what they might do when they get the highest office of the land.

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Here’s something I got from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and written by Malou Mangahas. Well-researched, I find her article a good educational read -- something to think about transparency and adhering to the rule of law.

The law requires all candidates to submit their Statement of Electoral Contributions and Expenses within 30 days after Election Day; otherwise, the winners may not be allowed to take their oath of office.

The law on campaign finance set caps on how much a candidate may spend, who may donate and receive money on his or her behalf, and what types of expenses may be allowed, and what are disallowed. A candidate for president, vice president and senator may spend at most P10 per voter, and his or her political party, an additional P5 per voter.

With 50 million registered voters as base figure, the spending limit those gunning for national positions are P500 million for the candidate, and P250 million for his or her political party. Combined, the maximum spending limit for national candidates is P750 million for the May 10, 2010 elections.

The PCIJ concluded that most candidates seem inclined to understate and deflate their expenses, hide or shield the full details of donations they received and the identities of the donors, and offer only a list of their expense items by general categories.

The most secretive are those who vied, and are vying for the presidency. They went through the motions of filing the financial statements for its sake, with little regard for the completeness and integrity of their reports.

Those who disclosed the donations to their campaigns but were sparse with details of their campaign expenditures were Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joseph Estrada – and those who seek it now -- Senators Manny Villar, Jamby Madrigal, and Bro. Eddie Villanueva.

Those who were most transparent and almost made full disclosure of details were Vice President Noli de Castro and Senators Noynoy Aquino and Richard Gordon, among others. The most impressive was that of presidential spare tire Noli de Castro.

In 2004, de Castro submitted a report that’s an auditor’s dream. His financial statement looked like a bookkeeper’s journal of his daily campaign expenses. De Castro disclosed the millions of pesos he paid certain “media representatives” apparently moonlighting as his PRs, some radio reporters and stations, two editors in one tabloid, reporters who attended his press conference, and a TV anchor in whose program he was invited as a guest.

Aquino’s report is as detailed, but with numerous entries for “foods and groceries,” gasoline, freight charges, and P10.89 million in “unpaid obligations incurred” even after he had won. This included P4.8 million he owed GMA Network, P3.2 million the Associated Broadcast Management Corporation, and P2.8 million the LSA Printing Press Inc.

Villar claimed that he spent his own money in the 2001 elections (P38.56 million) and again in 2007 (P62.53 million), Villar’s net worth grew even fatter and bigger. After spending P62 million of his own money for his reelection bid, in June 2007, Villar declared a net worth of P921.39 million; six months later, this surged further to P1.04 billion. A case of sipag and tiyaga while in office?

Too bad, PCIJ failed to provide details on Gordon. He could have been an interesting case study for transparency and accountability to the law. At any rate, I now have a shortlist for whom I’m going to vote for the presidency.

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