Campaign Finance and the May 2016 Elections in the Philippines (A five-part series)

Campaign Finance and the May 2016 Elections in the Philippines (A five-part series)

Organisation: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (Philippines)

Publication Date: 04/06/2017

Size of team/newsroom:small

Description

Money in politics and elections, and how candidates in the Philippines resist or relent to its seduction, offers us a preview of how those who seek to lead and rule may likely turn honest or dishonest once in office. Money in politics and elections, in truth, presents a first, true test of the integrity, probity, and character -- or lack thereof -- of aspiring and returning public officials. Our five-part series inquired into the veracity of details, the degree of compliance with or defiance of election laws, and the apparent and real conflicts of interest that mark the donations received by the candidates for president, vice president, and senator in the May 2016 Philippine elections. This is the third elections in the country that PCIJ has scrutinized with avid devotion to campaign finance, in our belief that our nation's epic quest for transparent, accountable, and honest government should start with open, transparent, accountable, and inclusive elections. The first part of our report yields these, among others findings: • Only 13 wealthy donors of Rodrigo R. Duterte who each gave him P5 million or more powered his presidential bid. Altogether, these donors raised P334.8 million or about 90 percent of Duterte's P375 million total campaign kitty. In contrast, small donations or those P10,000 and below amount to just P175,313 -- less than half of one percent or merely 0.046 percent of Duterte’s total campaign fund. • Out of the 56 million total registered voters in the last elections, the total number of donors to the five candidates for president came up to only 830 Filipinos. Too, 80 percent of the total amount raised for the presidential race came from Metro Manila, making the National Capital Region the fundraising heart of the polls. • A bevy of donors who are prohibited by election law from donating have largely bankrolled the campaign of national candidates. The succeeding parts of our report feature the following findings: • Three candidates for president, two for vice president, and seven senators, and four political parties altogether realized P69 million in excess donations. Except for one candidate for senator who paid taxes due on his excess contributions, the rest have yet to either pay the appropriate taxes, or have supposedly opted to donate the amount to charity. • At least 32 national candidates reported spending a combined total of P346 million out of their own pockets, in their election campaign. PCIJ's review of their past and latest SALNs shows that some of these candidates have net worth values that are too small, or liquidity too negligible, casting serious doubt on their claim that they spent their own money in the last elections. • At most 24 fundraisers of candidate Jejomar Binay raised 80 percent or P382.8 million of his P463.4-million campaign fund, except that the money did not come from their own pockets. Binay’s fundraisers have kept the identities of his actual donors secret, however.

What makes this project innovative? What was its impact?

Campaign finance is underreported in the Philippines. Although the conduct of elections has improved in recent years, the quality of campaign-finance disclosures, access to these reports, the gaps in the text and enforcement of the laws, and the capacity of the Commission on Elections to take on the duty have made it difficult for journalists and citizens to monitor how candidates raise and spend money to get elected. From the 2010 to this most recent elections, the PCIJ has made significant efforts to overcome these hurdles by employing the art of accessing documents, spreadsheet and SQL skills, and most importantly, shoe-leather reporting. The marriage of different sets of data produced by different agencies complemented by a series of interviews with experts and subjects helped us uncover irregularities in disclosure reports and verify candidates’ claims before and after elections. As a result, our team of reporters was invited to present the findings of our stories to the Commission on Elections sitting en banc. When or how the poll body will act on these matters is the big question, though. To this day, the Campaign Finance Office, the unit tasked to regulate campaign finance remains headless, its staff personnel left to minding house but without the mandate or authority of the en banc to act on emerging cases. The stories were syndicated to major online news websites, both local and national. At least one broadcast network ran a story using our report. The stories also got fairly high online engagement, by volume of shares, likes, and retweets on Facebook and Twitter. As expected, the series also received negative comments from Duterte supporters, mainly led by personalities who run partisan social media accounts.

Technologies used for this project:

For this report on campaign finance and the May 2016 elections, PCIJ curated, digitized, and analyzed over 12 gigabytes of data, including the Statement of Contributions and Expenditures that the candidates have submitted to the Commission on Elections, corporate records of the candidates and their top donors, bid notice and award data from the Procurement Service, public-works contracts data, mining tenements data, advertising contracts and broadcast logs from media agencies, the entry-into-office Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth of the candidates, and PCIJ’s list of campaign donors culled from Comelec records from the 1998 to 2013 elections. Too, the reports were informed by extensive interviews with relevant subjects and officials of regulatory agencies, and supplemental analysis by accountants and tax lawyers sought out by PCIJ. Most of the documents, particularly the Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCEs) of candidates, came in hard copies. For two months, PCIJ had several staff stationed at the Comelec’s Campaign Finance Office to have the SOCEs scanned as they were coming in from field offices. After securing soft copies of the SOCEs, we encoded the information supplied in the records to be able to build our own databases in Microsoft Excel. These databases were then analyzed or “interviewed” using various Excel functions and pivot tables. We also used Navicat to be able to run SQL queries on procurement and public-works data, which are bigger datasets. We used these datasets specifically to identify donors who had contracts with government. By law, government contractors are prohibited to donate in the campaign.

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