PALACE SHOULD STOP ILLEGAL CABINET INFOMERCIALS
Ladies and gentlemen of the Senate:
The dictionary defines a rhinoceros as a large, powerful, herbivarous, thick-skinned perissodactyl mammal with two horns. Thus, a rhinoceros is a template for cabinet members and other executive officials who use public funds, or gifts from so-called “friends,” to campaign for next year’s elections. They are all thick-skinned and should be shot on sight.
DBM Should Not Allow Ad Expenses
Last May, the Department of Budget and Management issued the “FY 2010 National Budget Call.” It is a set of guidelines and procedures in the preparation of the 2010 budget, which the Senate is expected to receive by the end of this month. Under the heading “Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses,” the DBM allows this item: “Advertising expenses. Cost of advertisement in newspapers, magazines, television, radio, and other forms of media.”
We in the Senate do not see advertising expenses as a line item in the annual budget, because it is hidden under the general item MOOE. This is why cabinet members routinely abuse this advertising expense account every three years, when an election approaches. Without legislative oversight, they shamelessly help themselves to these public funds, on the pretext that they are conducting information campaigns about their departments.
COA Audit of Advertising Expenses
Greed for and abuse of public funds are proved by the figures from the Commission on Audit submitted to me, as chair of the economic affairs committee, on 14 August 2009 by Chair Reynaldo Villar. In 2008–2009, certain cabinet members and other executive officials, prematurely campaigning for the 2010 elections, used public funds totaling, in round figures, P118 million. In 2009 alone – the year before elections – they spent public funds for their candidacies totaling, in round figures, P100 million.
This is the list of cabinet members and other executive officials, arranged by the amount of government funds spent for infomercials, for the two years of 2008-2009:
In Round Figures:
- Chair Augusto Syjuco, Tesda - P28.3 M
- Mayor Jejomar Binay, Makati - P23.4 M
- VP Noli de Castro, OVP, Pag-ibig/HDMC, HUDCC - P18.1 M
- Chair Efraim Genuino, Pagcor - P14.1 M
- Sec. Francisco Duque, DOH - P13.2 M
- Chair Bayani Fernando, MMDA - P 7.4 M
- Sec. Jesli Lapuz, DepEd - P 5.7 M
- Sec. Hermogenes Ebdane, DPWH - P 3.8 M
- Sec. Nasser Pangandaman, DAR - P 2.4 M
- Sec. Ronaldo Puno, DILG - P 0.9 M
TOTAL = P117.7 M
- Mayor Binay - P23.4 M
- Chair Syjuco - P22.5 M
- VP de Castro - P18.1 M
- Chair Genuino - P14.1 M
- Chair Fernando - P 6.4 M
- Sec. Lapuz - P 5.7 M
- Sec. Edbane - P 3.8 M
- Sec. Duque - P 3.3 M
- Sec. Pangandaman - P 2.4 M
- Sec. Puno - P .240 M
These executive officials can expect to stay in office until the end of November, the deadline for filing certificates of candidacy, when they will be considered resigned. Thus, unless we in the Senate will warn them to stop using public funds, they are likely to intensify their infomercials, and it would be likely that they will incur more expenses – maybe another P100 million. Their total greed and abuse might then reach a grand total of P218 million of public funds used for electioneering. One small step to the Senate, a giant leap in greed and abuse.
No Legal Basis for Infomercials
There is no specific legal basis for TV infomercials and other campaign materials which feature the head of agency. The law merely provides that: “public officials shall provide information on their policies and procedures.” (R.A. No. 6713, Code of Conduct for Public Officials, Sec. 4 (A) (e)). This provision should be read in the context of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights which provides that: “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized.”
In other words, if a person goes to a government agency and requests information about policies and procedure, then the agency has a legally demandable duty to provide the information, unless it might endanger national security. The right is given to the citizen, not to the agency.
Possibly the only agency required by the Constitution to inform the public is the DOH, under the provision that the state shall instill health consciousness among the people. (Article 2, Sec 15).
But even assuming that infomercials have a specific legal basis, there is no legal basis for the appearance of the head of agency in a state-funded infomercial, particularly when he is planning to run in the elections. I challenge any of these executive officials to cite any such specific law. There is none. There is no legal basis for infomercials. They are illegal.
Timing is Dead Giveaway
If the cabinet officials are merely piously discharging their non-existent duty to expose themselves to the public, why did they start only in 2008, and why are they going full speed in 2009, the year before elections? Why didn’t they start publicizing their pious duty to appear in paid media, specially TV, when they assumed office, many years ago?
Gentlemen of the cabinet, how do you explain the timing of your highly-paid TV infomercials?
Here is the list of their dates of appointment: Mayor Binay - 30 July 2001; Chair Fernando - 3 June 2002; Chair Syjuco - 2004; VP de Castro - 30 July 2004; Sec. Duque - 9 June 2005; Sec. Teves - 12 July 2005; Sec. Puno - 6 April 2006; Sec. Lapuz - 19 July 2006; Sec. Teodoro - August 2007.
COA Infomercials Unnecessary
Infomercials violate COA Circular No. 94-001 dated 1994 which states: “Sec 16. Grounds for Disallowance. 16.1. All transactions which are irregular, unnecessary, unconscionable, excessive, and extravagant (IUEE).”
According to COA, the audit criteria are as follows:
- +The infomercial should contain information that the public needs to know. What determines necessity is the public need, not the executive official’s political agenda. In their blind ignorance, certain cabinet members keep on chanting the mantra that they need to inform the public. In the optimum, every government agency and every public official has a duty to inform the public, BUT only if the public asks. Who ever asked these cabinet members to inflict their grotesque faces on the TV viewing public?
- The infomercial should be part of the essential functions of the agency. For example, infomercials on a “need to know” basis could be issued by DOH concerning contagious diseases, or by DSWD on emergency assistance for dangerous calamities. Not any function of the agency will justify infomercials, but only an extraordinary function under extraordinary conditions. The infomercial should be essential to the operation of the agency.
- The infomercial should be authorized by a line item in the budget.
- The infomercial should have been processed in accordance with R.A. No. 1984.
Almost all of the infomercials flunk this fourfold test for legality. Under COA Circular No. 85-55-A, expenses for advertisements of anniversaries, etc., in newspapers, TV, or radio merely for publicity or propaganda purposes are unnecessary and should be disallowed, except when the nature of the agency’s mission would require such expenses, as in the case of promotion of trade and business. Here are some COA audit observations on the greed and abuse of executive officials:
- Chair Syjuco. On 27 February 2008, the COA declared as unnecessary, his advertising expenses in the sum of P12.3 M; on 12 March 2008, the sum of P21.12; M; and on 24 June 2009, the sum of P18.4 M. COA warned him at least three times, but he kept on spending public money. COA has noted that Mr. Syjuco’s ad with the professional singer Sarah Geronimo cost the taxpayer P8.3 million.
- VP de Castro. He is the unpaid talent for a profusion of housing ads, thus gaining exposure.
- Chair Fernando. He used MMDA funds for giant tarpaulin posters, with his photo occupying over half of the area of the poster.
- Sec. Puno. In 2009, he charged to DILG funds, media greetings on certain occasions, such as the President’s birthday, Mr. Puno’s own birthday, and the anniversary of the Tribune newspaper.
- Sec. Duque. He appeared in ads concerning dengue, smoking, and generics.
- Sec. Lapuz. He appears in ads for Brigada Eskwela, for which DepEd funds were used to pay the Philippine Information Agency (PIA).
- Sec. Pangandaman. DAR ads showed him and the President.
- Sec. Ebdane. DPWH ads showed him and the President.
- Chair Genuino. He appears in Pagcor ads, which are unnecessary, because Pagcor is a monopoly. Why advertise a monopoly?
- Mayor Binay. He appears in ads extolling the benefits of living in Makati , where he is mayor, thus making a subliminal pitch for national office.
Ads Paid by Friends Constitute Indirect Bribery
The infomercials of Mr. Puno, Mr. Teodoro, and maybe others, purport to be paid by “friends.” If so, the disclaimer in the TV ads constitute an admission of the crime of receiving manifestly excessive gifts, as defined by R.A. No. 3019, the Anti-Graft Act.
The rate card of a top TV channel charges P475,000 for 30 seconds of prime time. It appears that the running time of each executive official, ranked from the longest to the shortest, are as follows: Sec. Teodoro - 1 minute 12 seconds; Sec. Ebdane - 1 minute 3 seconds; Chair Genuino - 60 seconds; VP de Castro - 54 seconds; Mayor Binay - 39 seconds; Sec. Puno - 33 seconds; Sec. Teves - 30 seconds; Chair Syjuco - 30 second; Sec. Duque - 29 seconds; Chair Fernando - 20 seconds; Sec. Lapuz - 16 seconds.
These government officials are spending taxpayers’ money like there’s no tomorrow. If, as some ads proclaim, they were paid for by friends, the cost would run to hundreds of millions. Even a gift of P1 million is already considered to be “manifestly excessive.” We can only calculate that these ad expenses are “arrogantly excessive,” as in walang hiyaan na ito. We have been invaded by a herd of rhinoceros that are not only thick-skinned, but also dimwitted. They are making public admissions of the prohibited act of accepting a gift which is manifestly excessive.
Under the Rules Implementing the Code of Conduct (R.A. No. 6713) if convicted, they have to suffer the penalty of imprisonment up to five years, and disqualification to hold public office.
In this speech, I do not include the issue of premature campaigning, because I have brought a case to the Supreme Court, where it is pending. It is sub judice, and I refrain from discussing it on the merits, except to express the conviction that certain people are breaking the law against premature campaign.
Recommendation No. 1. I appeal to my colleagues in this Senate that, when we deliberate on the budget next month, we should abolish appropriations for advertising. If we have to keep this line item, we should accompany it with the condition that it should not feature the agency head, or any political image, or any effort to influence public support for a political candidate.At the hearing on 14 August 2009 of the economic affairs committee which I chair, I directed the executive officials to comply with the law, principally by observing COA audit criteria, and in any event to remove their images from their infomercials by the end of August.
These prohibitions have been adopted by other countries. One example is the Guidelines on Campaign Advertising dated June 2008 by the Australian government department of finance. Another example is an American law that prohibits public officials from using the facilities of public office, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office. (RCW 42.17.130).
Recommendation No. 2. I also appeal to my colleagues that in the 2010 budget, we should amend Section 59, the “General Provision on the Use of Savings.” We should add the condition that savings and contingent funds shall not be used to augment the budget for professional services and for advertising agencies.
Recommendation No. 3. I urge the Comelec to discharge its constitutional duty to: “Recommend to the Congress, effective measures to minimize election spending.” Constitution, Art. 9, (C, Sec. (2) (7). Gentlemen of the Comelec, where is your political will? In effect, you have to assume responsibility for the premature campaigning of these cabinet candidates, because of your ruling on my petition, which I have elevated to the Supreme Court. With the avalanche of cabinet infomercials, it has now become clear to the public that by its refusal to stop premature campaigning on the basis of a technicality, Comelec opened the way to a slippery slope.
Recommendation No. 4. I urge the COA to disallow all advertising expenses, and to demand that the executive officials concerned should return to the government the money they used for their ads.
Recommendation No. 5. I urge Channel 2, under its Boto Mo , Ipatrol Mo campaign; Channel 7, under its own election watchdog crusade; all other media; and all NGOs dedicated to honest and clean elections, to file a complaint with the Comelec for this election offense, against the executive officials I have mentioned, and others doing the same. If Comelec fails to act on a citizen complaint within four months from filing, I urge the NGOs to file the complaints with the state prosecutor or the Justice Department.
Recommendation No. 6. I demand that the Press Secretary as head of the Communications Group in the Office of the President should discharge his duty by directing all cabinet candidates to stop their infomercials immediately. Executive Order No. 511 dated 2006 creates the Communications Group and requires it to discharge the function of supervision of public information activities, including advertisements.
If there is no objection from our colleagues, I shall proceed to send a copy of this privilege speech to the Ombudsman, Comelec, and the Secretary of Justice, with my cover letter requesting criminal prosecution by October, if the executive officials refuse to be educated on the law, and continue their mad pursuit of public office by illegal and depraved use of public funds.