The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), in a report published by interaksyon.com April 27, 2016, revealed that the candidates for president, vice president and the Senate, and their political parties have already spent P2.7 billion ($57.4 million), or an average of P54 million ($1.148 million) a day or P2.5 million ($53 thousand) an hour, in paid advertisements from February 9 to March 31 2016. And this includes just the ads monitored by Nielsen Media. This does not include other campaign expenses such as campaign sorties, posters, and salaries of staff, among others.
Add to this the P800 million ($17 million) spent from February 1 to 8 and the P6.7 billion ($142.55 million) in pre-campaign paid ads and the total has reached P10.2 billion ($217 million).
This is nearly the same amount that Janet Lim-Napoles is being accused of stealing from the pork barrel funds. And according to an inquirer.net 2013 report, this amount could build 8,000 classrooms in two-story buildings or 13,699 classrooms in single-story buildings.
Why do they spend so much?
The chances of national candidates, from the president to the senators, of getting elected depend largely on popularity and name recall. Local candidates could go from street to street, house to house, and supplement this with posters, aside from the campaign rallies. But this is physically impossible for national candidates so they rely heavily on media ad placements, which are quite expensive. A 30-second TV ad costs around P800,000 ($17,000). https://www.bulatlat.com/2016/03/05…
What could a candidate say in 30 seconds? Not much, just a few lines. But it’s not much about what a candidate says but the attractiveness of the ad and his or her constant presence.
In the PCIJ report, the top spenders from among the candidates for president are Vice President Jejomar Binay, P345 million ($7.3 million), and Sen. Grace Poe, P331.4 million ($7.05 million). This is not surprising though. Vice president Binay has a lot of catching up to do, not only because his ratings in surveys are falling, but also because he and his family have been the subject of numerous graft cases, which naturally landed in the news. Sen. Grace Poe is also playing catch up in terms of projecting herself as a capable presidential candidate, given that she is the most inexperienced from among the five candidates.
Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte does not need to spend as much since he has been getting a lot of free coverage not only because he is on top of poll surveys, but also because of his controversial, cuss-word laden statements. Still the P110.36 million ($2.348 million) that he spent is a lot of money.
President Aquino’s candidate Mar Roxas spent P157.8 million ($3.35 million). However, he has been getting free coverage and visibility because the whole Aquino administration has been campaigning for him. President Aquino makes it a point to mention him in his official speeches. Aside from what Roxas spent, the Liberal Party also spent P54.3 million ($1.15 million) for ads featuring President Aquino endorsing the Roxas-Robredo tandem.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago spent the least at P59.14 million ($1.258 million) and is at the bottom of poll surveys.
Among the candidates for vice president, it is not surprising that Roxas running mate Leni Robredo has been the biggest spender at P237.2 million ($5.04 million) because outside of Naga City, she is practically unknown and she is competing with incumbent senators.
For the candidates for senator, ads are most crucial because one, the media hardly covers them, if at all. Second, voters are supposed to choose 12 from among 50 candidates. This is why incumbents and former senators are immediately at an advantage because of name recall.
This is the irony of Philippine elections. It is supposedly democratic because the president and vice president are elected by direct vote. Likewise, the people would elect senators who would supposedly not be beholden to local, parochial interests because their mandate is national in scope.
But how could a candidate who is not part of the elite and is not backed by big business and those with vast landholdings and have interests in national policies launch a credible, competitive campaign, much less win in such an election?
It is supposedly democratic and yet voters are made to choose on the basis of 30-second TV ads of prettified, smiling candidates saying nothing substantial, campaign jingles on the radio, media coverage, which merely reports where the candidates went and who they met, plus some sound bytes mainly consisting of controversial statements or attacks on other candidates, and the omnipresent campaign posters and streamers.