THE use of public funds in their personal bids to win an elective position may be used against Cabinet secretaries who have hired public relations agencies and bought radio and television air time for purported “information commercials” of their agencies, an election lawyer said on Monday.
Election lawyer Romeo Macalintal said that those who are planning to file their certificates of candidacy in October can be disqualified from running and even face six years imprisonment if they are proven to have used government funds to finance their campaign bids.
“Government officials using public funds promoting themselves for the 2016 polls in the guise of promoting their agencies could be held liable for entering into transaction disadvantageous to the government,” Macalintal said in a Kapihan sa Diamond Hotel yesterday.
He said the Ombudsman should look into their statements of assets, liabilities and net worth if such government officials claim that they used their own funds.
“How can you afford those millions of pesos in advertisement from your own pocket? Why do you have so much money?” Macalintal asked.
On the other hand, if a government official that the funds was given by a private person, the Bureau of Internal Revenue should look into this financier’s income tax return if he reported an income sufficient enough to finance such an activity.
“It would not be difficult to pursue such cases against these officials since the facts could not be disputed in that the transactions are grossly and manifestly disadvantageous to the government because the funds were irregularly, unnecessarily and unconscionably used to the advantage of these government officials who are eyeing elective posts in the 2016 elections,” Macalintal said.
Earlier, Commission on Elections chairman Andres Bautista admitted that they have no authority to penalize those who are now releasing some information commercial through different media since they have yet to file their COCs.
He then called on all watchdogs and other civil society groups to make voters aware of premature campaign activities, less than a year before the 2016 national and local elections.
Since the Comelec has no authority against their alleged premature campaigning, Bautista said election groups should focus on the moral aspect and encourage the public not to be persuaded with those commercials they have been seeing over television.
“They are not candidates yet. That’s in the law. It’s a legal issue more than anything else,” Bautista said.
But Macalintal slammed Bautista’s reasoning saying that his statement is a sign of the “weakness” of the Comelec, which should be an independent body.
“This is a sign of weakness,” Macalintal said. “Obviously they are already promoting themselves as candidates. The Comelec can do something about it.”
Under Republic Act 9369, “any person who files his certificate of candidacy (COC) shall only be considered as a candidate at the start of the campaign period” and that “unlawful acts applicable to a candidate shall be in effect only upon that start of the campaign period”.
This provision was affirmed by the 2009 Supreme Court case of Penera vs. Comelec, which paved the way for the removal of premature campaigning as an election offense.