Friday, December 15, 2006

The High Cost of Elections

GMA political adviser Gabby Claudio at last acknowledged that the May 14, 2006 elections will push thru and said that they are now gearing up for it (see this Manila Standard TODAY story). Former senator Heherson Alvarez, who is the Lakas Vice President for Luzon, floated the following names to comprise the administration Senate slate:

1. Mike Defensor
2. Angelo Reyes
3. Buboy Syjuco
4. Arturo Lomibao
5. Jose Marty Lim
6. Amang Magsaysay
7. Lito Atienza
8. Roy Cimatu
9. Robert Ace Barbers
10. Prospero Pichay
11. Gilbert Teodoro
12. Miguel Zubiri

Reading the list, my reaction was: No wonder they want to abolish the Senate! No wonder they have kept their list for so long! My God if this is going to be their senatorial slate, they will definitely be creamed by the opposition! Consider the senatorial line-up which Erap announced awhile back:

1. Loren Legarda
2. Manny Villar
3. Ralph Recto
4. Kiko Pangilinan
5. Gringo Honasan
6. Tessie Aquino-Oreta
7. John OsmeƱa
8. Tito Sotto
9. Chiz Escudero
10. Alan Peter Cayetano
11. Koko Pimentel
12. JV Ejercito

Definitely, Gabby Claudio will have to exhaust all his electoral campaign wizardry to make even just 1/3 of the admin slate to win.

In the olden days one has to have the backing of a party (either Nacionalista or Liberal) to win. Local political kingpins in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s were relied upon by our national leaders to "deliver the votes." Much has changed since then. Today, senatorial races are "immune" to machinery politics. Senatorial candidates no longer rely on mayors, governors and local kingpins to "deliver the votes" but rather rely on their own network of contacts and loyal supporters. This is so because local politicians, pre-occupied with their own respective campaigns, lend only token assistance to senatorial candidates and many usually leave it to their constituents to decide whom to vote for in the Senate. Senatorial campaigns have also become more and more media-driven. This is so because a senatorial candidate can reach more voters and/or make a better impression to voters by appearing on TV than by "pounding the campaign trail," shaking hands and making speeches (which almost no one listens to anyway). In fact, an already-popular or "winnable" candidate nowadays can just stay in Manila and decide to appear on TV during the entire campaign period and win a Senate seat. Of course, not one among our present crop of nationally-elected leaders (not even popular TV broadcaster Noli "Kabayan" de Castro) have attempted this but I suspect that the only reason why national candidates today still insist on scheduling provincial sorties is to enable their campaign handlers to generate stories and images for their press releases. "Human interest" stories i.e. a photo of Candidate X being kissed by a toothless lola or Candidate Y being mobbed by the youth can help boost a candidate's image. Time will come when national candidates will no longer have to endure travelling the entire breadth of the Philippines to win. Elections will primarily be decided by how well a candidate can articulate and communicate his/her campaign message to the voters thru media. The downside is that media-driven campaigns have jacked up the cost of running for a national position in this country.

In the last 2004 elections, it is said that (serious) senatorial candidates spent on the average between P200 million to P500 million, the bulk of which was spent for the purchase of media air time and ad space. Presidential aspirants spent more, and political experts estimate that one has to have at least P2 billion in order to wage a decent run.

While election expenses for local positions have also trebled in the past years, it has not gone up at the same rate as with national-level positions. A candidate for Congressman, on the average, needs around P30 million to be able to wage a decent campaign and a Mayor around P10 milion. Of course, congressional and mayoral candidates in heavily urbanized areas usually need more (I know of one congressman who ostensibly spent P500 million) but in small, far-flung municipalities, there are still mayoral candidates who spend as low as P200,000 and win. In a local race, there is only so much you can spend your money on. Even if you have a P1 billion campaign kitty, you will not be able to spend it all (at least not wisely) even if you want to. You can probably buy all the radio air time and newspaper ad space in your locality, but with that kind of money you might as well set up your own local radio station (as what in fact some local politicians have done).

While national elections are becoming more and more media-driven, local elections are becoming more and more machinery-oriented. While a senatorial candidate might complain of media ad rates becoming more and more expensive, a candidate for congressman or mayor may be bemoaning the fact that voters are becoming more and more jaded - meaning: they will only vote for you if you give them money, otherwise they would rather just stay in their homes come election day. With the way things stand, the cost of elections will continue to escalate and is showing no signs of abating. In the future, elections in the Philippines may well become so costly that even billionaire taipans will no longer be able to afford donating campaign funds to politicians every three years (see this List of Top 40 Richest Pinoys) . They might join the clamor to change the Constitution to hold elections once every 10 years only.


Nostalgia Manila said...

It's been a great year for bloggers. May you prosper in the new year!

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

--Nostalgia Manila

Dominique said...

Merry Christmas, Oliver!