Traditionally, in Philippine presidential elections, candidates invest heavily to win the highest public office, spending billions of pesos on campaign ads, travels, rallies and on a huge army of ground workers to lure voters and make sure they cast their ballots on D-day.
Candidates even overspent despite the limits set by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to secure the position by hook or by crook.
They do not only spend millions of pesos on media advertisement, posters, tarpaulins and billboards, but on logistics during provincial sorties during the 90-day campaign for those running for national office.
A 30-second TV ad could cost a low of P250,000 depending on the time slot and broadcast network. ABS-CBN used to corner political advertisements shown during prime time programs.
They also spend money for local political officers to do on the ground campaigning. For a presidential candidate, for instance, there should be at least one political officer to marshall supporters in each of the 42,000 barangays nationwide.
Forget the small and remote barangays. But the candidates still need an army to do the groundwork and an enormous amount is required to make them work, targeting large barangays in the provinces and in urban centers.
One barangay in Mandaluyong City has more than 40,000 people and more than 70 percent are eligible to vote. Quezon City has the most number of voters at 1.4 million. There are about 65 million voters in the May elections.
The candidates also have to “buy” the loyalties of local government officials in every province, city, and town as well as congressional districts and party-list groups to ensure victory at the polls.
There were estimates that a candidate needed at least P5 billion to run a decent campaign. The amount was way, way above the limits set by the Comelec but no candidate would honestly admit the exact amount he or she had spent during the campaign.
Many candidates actually started campaigning a year before the filing of certificates of candidacy and the actual campaign period.
The candidates’ statements of campaign expenditures were usually under-reported to meet the requirements of the law.
There is a need to amend the Comelec rules on election campaign spending and the entire election campaign finance law. It is unrealistic. It makes politicians hypocrites and liars.
There is one honest politician who paid the price for overspending.
Before the pandemic, expenses during the 90-day campaign were mindblowing.
Imagine how much the candidates spent for air and land travels. The hotel accommodation and allowances for campaign staff. They spent money on every movement and every activity.
Even if there are donors and partners, campaign spending is a big burden.
When they hold rallies or “miting de avance,” a fortune is spent for the venue, the crowd and for entertainers to liven up the crowd.
Ordinary people normally do not go to political rallies to listen to candidates who make the same promises, they go to these rallies for entertainment. They go to see movie stars and the candidates but not for speeches.
But the May 2022 presidential elections are different. This could be the first time since the country won its independence in 1946 when a presidential candidate will spend less for a campaign because an army of loyal and dedicated supporters are willing to pay for their own food, transportation, and campaign materials.
It’s a people-driven campaign not seen in Philippine elections when the candidates are known to be buying the support of the people. It’s a middle-class revolt that partly fueled the popular uprising against a dictatorship in 1986 and later against a corrupt president in 2001.
It’s a reaction to five years of bullying and hate messages on social media. Troll farms and social media influencer working for President Rodrigo Duterte have dominated Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms to change the narrative, spewing hate messages and spreading disinformation and propaganda.
These volunteers are supporting a candidate who can restore moral and decent leadership in government and ensure justice and truth will prevail. It’s not an EDSA 1986 experience but an entirely new phenomenon.
Ordinary voters are directly involved in the election campaign. They spend their own money to buy campaign materials, like tarpaulins, stickers, and t-shirts, and go to rallies on their own without waiting to be bused and brought to venues.
These volunteers, mostly from the middle class and younger sector of society, have been going out of their way to help a candidate win and prevent the only son and namesake of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos from clawing back to power.
There were also some people from the D and E brackets of society who went out of their way to show support by offering services.
These are real volunteers who do not need to be paid for services to a candidate. In several towns in Iloilo province, for instance, these volunteers go house-to-house in remote barangays everyday to campaign for their candidate. They also spend money on campaign materials, food, and transportation to convince people to vote for the candidate.
Iloilo’s experience could be replicated in other provinces where volunteers believed and supported the candidate’s just and moral cause.
All these volunteers have been working to stop not only the Marcoses from returning to power, but also the political families who were equally tainted with graft and corruption, like former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and members of other political dynasties.
In sharp contrast, “volunteers” for other presidential candidates are like jukeboxes. Money makes them work. There are also dangers: they can abandon the candidates if the money promised them would not be given.
Some candidates have powerful allies but they would not spare a peso to pay for volunteers and campaign materials. They would rely on the candidate to provide them funds for local campaigns. These allies also have no loyalty to a candidate. They could abandon the candidate if they don’t get the campaign funds promised by a candidate.
There were rumors the presidential candidate was willing to give P5 million to P50 million for each barangay chairman and mayor who would deliver the votes on election day.
In the end, money cannot make a candidate win an election. There had been precedents, like former senator Manuel Villar, the billionaire who failed to win the 2010 elections, and placed third behind eventual winner Benigno Aquino III and populist Joseph Estrada.
The May 2022 balloting will probably go down in the country’s history as the first election won by a candidate with a shoestring budget but backed by an army of volunteers – ordinary people willing to chip in and contribute to the campaign.