Political strategist Malou Tiquia has observed a consistent pattern in the 2010 presidential elections and the 2013 midterm elections.
"It would appear," she says, "that there is now a pre-campaign expenditure and a campaign proper expenditure."
Indeed, in the runup to the recently concluded polls, several candidates showed a penchant for spending on TV ads prior to the campaign period. In the three months preceding the start of the official campaign period, or from Nov. 11, 2012 to Feb. 11, 2013, the “advocacy” ad values of 14 senatorial candidates and two coalitions had already amounted to nearly P850 million, based on the network’s published rate cards, according to Nielsen data.
On top of the shame campaign they have to endure in social media —“Epal” politicians now face tighter audit that will hopefully curb self-promotion at the expense of public funds. Invoking its exclusive authority to promulgate accounting and auditing rules, such as to weed out “irregular, unnecessary, excessive, extravagant or unconscionable” state expenditures, the Commission on Audit has mapped out an “anti-Epal” blueprint for the first time. Just in time for the mid-term elections this year and ahead of the 2016 presidential polls.
Based on COA Circular 2013-004 dated Jan. 30, 2013, all government agencies must list all ongoing government projects, programs and activities at the beginning of the year, including key details like project name, implementing unit, office or division, brief description, contractor or supplier (if any), mode of procurement, funding source, cost or approved budget, project duration including start and completion dates and location. But COA said publicity on these should be made “at least possible cost” and it even prescribed a maximum size for the materials (e.g. signboards must not exceed 3 feet x 2 feet).
Here’s the juicy part. The COA ruled that the display of the picture, image, motto, logo, color motif, initials or other symbolic or graphic representation associated with the top leadership of the project proponent or implementing agency on signboards is “considered unnecessary.” The same rule applies to members of Congress, executive officials or local officials where the project is implemented wholly or partially through any form of government fund transfers. The COA also ruled against the “unnecessary” display of publicity items on equipment, vehicles, wrappers, containers, tokens, souvenirs, calendars, ballpens, T-shirts or other apparel and other items.
The cost of the public notices can be charged against the project’s budget, provided such notices conform to the specifications. If not, COA chair Grace Tan said: “Ibalik nila pera (They should return the money).” The public can help uncover and report any violation of the circular to firstname.lastname@example.org. Doris C. Dumlao