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For the fund of it.

Over the weekend I met the wife of a candidate in a Metro Manila city, whose in-law is challenging a dynast for mayor in another city. The in-law is languishing in the surveys, the woman lamented.

I told her that her in-law could consider this campaign as an introduction to the next one in 2022. With better name recall after this campaign, the in-law stands a better chance in the next race. That may be true, the woman sighed, but what happens to the expenses for this season's campaign? She didn't cite a specific figure, but just to give me an idea, she said her husband was spending P6 million for his reelection bid merely for a city council seat.

A councilor in Metro Manila recently told me that he is paid about P100,000 a month, or P1.2 million a year. Even with 13th month pay, that's a total of just P3.9 million for a three-year term.

If P6 million is spent for the campaign for a council seat, that's P2.1 million in campaign funds that cannot be recovered through a councilor's regular pay. The councilor belongs to a prominent clan and is perhaps not interested in a return on campaign investment through the modest pay of a public servant.

Perhaps we're too cynical and there really are people who enter politics and seek elective office for the noble cause of serving the public well and with integrity. (OK, I'm buying the bridge you're sellinghellip) Election lawyer Romeo Macalintal, who is seeking a Senate seat under the opposition Otso Diretso, told The Chiefs on Cignal TV's One News before the official start of the campaign period that he was allocating all of P8 million for his candidacy.

I hope this is not the reason he hasn't entered the Magic 12 so far. A senator seeking reelection told me that he spent about P150 million in his last campaign.

I asked him how he intended to recover that kind of investment. He shot back: who says candidates need to recoup investments? He said his campaign expenditures were mostly donated.

And he intended to repay the donors in the only way expected of elected public servants in a democracy: through competent and honest public service. Since the senator belongs to a clan that is accused of cornering many aspects of development and economic activities in his family's turf, it was a challenge to prevent myself from raising my eyebrows.

For an undertaking that could wipe out the life savings of an average Pinoy, you have to wonder why there are hundreds of thousands of people seeking elective posts in May. They are investing massive amounts in their campaign.

A number of them, especially in local races, are ready to kill, literally, to win. The returns must be better than even organized crime, since even suspected drug traffickers and jueteng lords are entering politics (with a number of them winning).

Even entertainers at the sunset of their career see politics as an ideal alternative. You know something offers rich rewards when parents want to hand over their positions to their children, and ideally to the next generations of their clan.

"Someday, my child, all this will be yours" sounds reasonable and fine in a private business, but in politics it can raise alarm bells. Even when they lose, those who managed to raise significant amounts of campaign contributions can still be considered winners.

Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez earlier told The Chiefs that the poll body does not keep track of fund-raising by every candidate. The Comelec instead relies on the statements of contributions and expenditures that each candidate is required to submit to the poll body at the end of the election period.

Jimenez admits that it can be impossible to verify the accuracy of each statement. In case a complaint is filed, however, a candidate can be singled out for a probe of the accuracy.

What happens, we asked, if the candidate does not declare the contributions, most of which are not covered by receipts in the first place and leave no paper trail? It will be the candidate's own lookout, Jimenez said. The contributions can be considered personal income that must be declared for tax purposes.

But again, in the absence of receipts, how can the revenue police go after possible political tax evaders? This is why it's common to hear candidates saying, only in half-jest, that they are seeking elective office purely "for the fund of it." This is reportedly the sentiment of a prominent politician who is languishing in the polls for the first time in his life.

Many people acknowledge the need to regulate campaign donations and expenditures. This is being done in countries such as the United States, so there's a regulatory template that can be followed in case Philippine lawmakers put their hearts to passing the needed legislation.

You and I know, of course, that this is a long way from happening, like the lifting of bank secrecy laws. Opaque financing rules make election campaigns so much fun.

Or make that so much funds, with no need for accounting, for the candidates to keep.
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Publication:Philippines Star (Manila, Philippines)
Date:Feb 26, 2019
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