President Rodrigo Duterte’s beef against ABS-CBN turns out to be him being bigger fish to fry.

At the Senate hearing last February 24, new information emerged that during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Duterte camp bought from ABS-CBN “a total of ₱182 million in commercial spots, split into ₱117 million for national ads — which were all aired — and ₱65 million in local ads, which would target audience in a specific province.” About P7 million worth of local ads were unaired, which means that the Duterte camp spent roughly P175 million for ABS-CBN alone.

Based on the Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) submitted to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), the Duterte camp reportedly declared about P110 million in total campaign ad spending. Comparing this information to the one provided by ABS-CBN, Duterte is likely to have overspent.

Assuming that a 15-second ad spot costs P500,000 and a 30-second ad spot in popular primetime evening programs costs P800,000, it is probable that spending about P175 million for a single network would already go beyond what is allowed by law. Section 9a of COMELEC Resolution 10049 (promulgated on February 1, 2006) clearly states that broadcast election propaganda for candidates or registered political parties for a national elective position shall be “[n]ot more than a total of one hundred twenty (120) minutes of television advertising, on a per originating station basis, whether appearing on national, regional, or local, free or cable television, and one hundred eighty (180) minutes of radio advertising, on a per originating station basis, whether airing on national, regional, or local radio, whether by purchase or donation.”

That the Duterte camp declared a total presidential election campaign spending of P371 million makes the information shared by ABS-CBN more shocking. Does this mean that Duterte and his supporters four years ago had so much faith on ABS-CBN that it supposedly decided to pay the latter about 47.2 percent of its total election budget?

As the renewal of franchise of ABS-CBN hangs in the balance, the issue now goes beyond press freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of speech. Election fraud rears its ugly head once more and the COMELEC must fulfill its mandate to investigate.

Contact person: Assoc. Prof. Danilo Arao, convenor, Kontra Daya

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