Press Release
September 24, 2009


(Guest Speaker at La Salle University , 24 September 2009)

Domination of Mass Media

From independence until recently, Philippine politics was based on strong political party organizations. Candidates depended on party machinery, meaning political leaders at various local levels. During the Marcos regime, in effect only the administration party existed. But after the People Power revolution, we saw the emergence of new communications technologies, specially TV.

When I first entered politics in 1992 as an independent presidential candidate, I accepted the need for a party organization. But I wanted a party, not of traditional politicians, but of young people. Hence, I founded the People's Reform Party, which ran only on the hope, dreams, and idealism of student volunteers. I ran on the basic platform of reforming the culture of corruption.

I contend that in 1992, I won in the voting, but lost in the counting. I won because of the youth vote. And I won because by that time, the mass media had become dominant over party organization. Several times, I have been called a "political phenomenon." But I think that equally phenomenal was my media exposure as the unflinching enemy of corruption at the immigration bureau. For that crusade, I was chosen to be a laureate of the Magsaysay Award for government service, considered to be Asia 's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

New Media

Today, we look forward to the 2010 presidential elections. I think the coming elections will prove that so-called new media will dominate the campaign. I refer to the internet, and text messages via mobile phones. Social networking sites will link internet users to the candidate's webpage, in order to know her policies and actively participate in discussions. At some future time, but not now, Filipino candidates will be able to get online donations for their campaign.

The Philippines has high internet penetration. As of March 2009, there are 20.65 million internet users in our country. Internet users constitute 21.5% of the Philippine population. In Asia, among the top internet user countries are China at No. 1, and the Philippines at No. 7.

In the past, candidates had to rely on face-to-face campaigns, by holding rallies, motorcades, and sorties in public places like local markets. I think that these campaign strategies are being replaced by TV sites and website promotions, which I shall call TV/Net. These new media are more efficient, less costly, and less time-consuming.

The campaign website with the candidate's concise messages can be linked to special internet blogs and chat rooms. Or the candidate can buy ad banner spots on special interest websites. TV and the Net can work in tandem. TV ads increase name recognition, which can encourage individuals to seek out additional information from the internet. Both TV and the Net will work together to create a cohesive image, which is the key to generating an honest, credible image.

Illegal Infomercials

The TV infomercials that proliferate on national TV are both unconstitutional and illegal. The infomercials violate the Constitution, which provides that: "The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service." (Article 2, Sec. 26). The longer the campaign period, the more expensive the campaign becomes. Hence, access to the electorate will no longer be equal.

Comelec has determined that the official campaign period will begin in February next year. But the rich candidates already started their TV campaigns since January this year. A top TV channel, during prime time, charges some P500,000 for every 30 seconds. This is called a 30-seconder. A poor candidate, or an honest incumbent public official, will have little chance of keeping up. If this trend continues, only the rich will be able to run. And having spent some P3 billion in a campaign, the next president would be tempted to recover his P3 billion investment and even earn a profit, by simply engaging in corruption while in office.

Infomercials Using Public Funds

Even more reprehensible are cabinet members who break the law with their premature TV campaigns, and aggravate the offense by using public funds. I call each of them a rhinoceros, because they are all thick-skinned and should be shot on sight. These rhinos are blatantly violating the Election Code, which provides that "any person, under any guise whatsoever, directly or indirectly," who uses public funds for campaigning, shall be guilty of an election offense.

According to the Commission on Audit, for the period of 2008 and part of 2009, the following cabinet members and other executives used public funds for infomercials:

1. Chair Augusto Syjuco, Tesda - P28.3 M

2. Mayor Jejomar Binay, Makati - P23.4 M

3. VP Noli de Castro

OVP, Pag-ibig/HDMC, HUDCC - P18.1 M

4. Chair Efraim Genuino, Pagcor - P14.1 M

5. Sec. Francisco Duque, DOH - P13.2 M

6. Chair Bayani Fernando, MMDA - P 7.4 M

7. Sec. Jesli Lapuz, DepEd - P 5.7 M

8. Sec. Hermogenes Ebdane, DPWH - P 3.8 M

9. Sec. Nasser Pangandaman, DAR - P 2.4 M

10. Sec. Ronaldo Puno, DILG - P .9 M

TOTAL P117.7 M

To his credit, Mr. Syjuco promptly pulled out his TV ads showing him and the professional singer Sarah Geronimo singing and dancing. Mr. Puno defiantly continues with his TV ads, which he claims are paid for by friends. But his excuse does not exculpate him. Under the Anti-Graft Act, public officials are guilty of the crime of receiving manifestly excessive gifts, if the gift is not nominal or not significant. Mr. Puno even used DILG funds to greet himself on his birthday!

Mr. Fernando used MMDA funds for giant tarpaulin posters, where his photo occupies more than one-half of the area of the poster. Mr. Genuino appears in TV ads, even though Pagcor is a monopoly. And so on, ad nauseam. Please remember that these are official COA observations, not mine.

What Students Can Do

I call on the citizens of De La Salle University: Let your voices be heard on the new media against political corruption! Use the Net to denounce public officials who commit the crimes of premature campaigning and illegal use of public funds for electioneering. Insist that we should move away from the politics of personality, to the politics of ideology. Have faith! For a person who is with God is always in the majority.

Let me quote from this famous essay by Minnie Louise Haskins in her 1908 book, Desert:

And I said to the man who

stood at the gate of the year: "Give

me a light that I may tread safely

into the unknown."

And he replied: "Go out into

the darkness and put your hand in the

Hand of God. That shall be to you, better

than light, and safer than a known way.

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