A LONGER and an earlier start of the campaign period for the 2016 elections is being pushed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) so it can monitor all election-related expenses of candidates.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said a 120-day campaign period starting on Jan. 10, 2016 was proposed by Commissioner Christian Robert Lim earlier this month.
At present, national candidates are given 90 days to campaign, as provided for in Section 5 of Republic Act (RA) 7166 or the Synchronized Election Law.
Local candidates have a shorter campaign period, lasting only 45 days.
Since election laws provide that any person who files his certificate of candidacy (COC) can only be considered a candidate at the start of the campaign period, Comelec cannot count as campaign expenditures whatever expense the candidates incur before that.
Bautista said, however, that some candidates circumvent the law. For him, it has become more of a moral issue than a legal one.
According to the Comelec’s draft calendar of activities for the 2016 elections, the campaign period starts on Jan. 10, 2016 for the positions of president, vice president, senators, party-list groups, congressional candidates, as well as regional, provincial, city, and municipal bets.
Comelec is still requesting Congress to amend the law because the poll body has no authority to extend the campaign period.
“May mga gastos na hindi counted (There are expenditures not being counted). It only comes into play during the start of the campaign period,” Bautista told reporters during his visit in Cebu last Wednesday.
Bautista was in Cebu since Wednesday for several activities, including the signing of a memorandum of agreement with the Gaisano Capital Group allowing Comelec to conduct satellite registrations inside its malls all over the province.
In an interview after the signing of the agreement, Bautista said loopholes in the law let candidates get away with premature campaigning and non-reporting of election-related expenses outside the campaign period.
Bautista said the problem lies in the absence of a law that prohibits premature campaigning.
Comelec’s proposal drew criticism from some lawmakers, saying it would complicate the campaign.
Rep. Benhur Salimbangon (Cebu 4th District) yesterday said he is against a longer election period because it will affect the implementation of infrastructure projects.
An infrastructure ban will be in effect once the election period starts.
Salimbangon said that aside from affecting the implementation of projects, a longer election period is impractical and not reasonable.
“I would rather want the Comelec to maintain the current campaign period and liberalize the putting of posters and other propaganda materials of candidates,” he said.
He said that even if the campaign period is longer but there are numerous restrictions, an extended campaign period will be useless.
For his part, Rep. Ashley Francisco Acedillo (Magdalo Party-List) said that the Comelec’s proposal may be put off until the 2019 polls, or until after the proposal has been carefully studied.
“I’m sure I can say this for most elected officials who do not have plenty of resources or do not come from big political parties. This proposal must be studied first as to its impact on campaign budgets and spending, the period of filing and its impact on incumbent employees and officials in government,” he said.
For Rep. Joseph Ace Durano (Cebu 5th District), it may be better to have a longer campaign period.
“Anyway, some are already campaigning. With an earlier election period, all such activities can be regulated already,” Durano said.
Aside from extending the campaign period, the Comelec is also appealing to the lawmakers to raise the current campaign expenditure limits.
He said the law the country is following “is circa 1991” and the cap is very low, Bautista said, referring to the current campaign expenditure limits.
The limits are P10 per registered voter for presidential and vice presidential candidates, P5 for national candidates and P3 for local candidates.
This means that given its 160,000 registered voters, a mayorial candidate in Mandaue City can only spend up to P480,000 for the campaign.
Meanwhile, the Comelec chairman is also optimistic that the 2016 elections will run more smoothly than the previous elections with the upgraded voting machines.
He said that the new Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines now have features that will help avoid problems met in previous elections.
“We want to learn from the lessons of past elections… The PCOS machines are now smaller and have better encryption technology and can detect dirt,” Bautista said.
During the 2010 and 2013 elections, some machines failed to operate because of the dirt that accumulated in the sensors.
Bautista said that Smartmatic, the supplier of the PCOS, promised to bring all the machines in the country by January 2016, which will then be distributed to the provinces for testing during mock elections.