The second presidential debate sponsored by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) last March 20 is memorable for many reasons: for being delayed by 90 minutes, for the insistence of Vice President Jejomar Binay to bring documents with him at his podium, and for TV5’s decision to air the pre-debate bantering between rivals Senator Grace Por, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, and former Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
Another thing that got people’s attention during the debate is the election-themed public service advertisement by Pride Detergent, a product of ACS Manufacturing. The 30-second ad, which was played repeatedly during the two-hour debate, features four kids warning the public against supporting candidates who steal money, kill people, and those who are unprepared for the job. Below is the transcript of the ad:
Sabi ni nanay, huwag magnakaw. (Mother said, do not steal.)
Sabi ni lola, huwag mangupit. (Grandmother said, do not filch.)
Sabi ni tatay, huwag papatay. (Father said, do not kill.)
Sabi ni lolo, kung hindi pa handa, ‘wag pilitin. (Grandfather said, if you’re not ready, don’t force it.)
Pero sabi nila may kandidatong magnanakaw. (But they say there’s a candidate who’s a thief.)
May kandidato daw na kupitero. (They say there’s a candidate who takes what isn’t his.)
May kandidato daw na papatay ng tao. (They say there’s a candidate who will kill people.)
Bakit may kandidato na hindi pa handa? (Why is there a candidate who’s unprepared for the job?)
Tanong lang po. (We’re just asking.)
Sila po ba ang dapat asahan para sa aming kinabukasan? (Are they the right ones to trust when it comes to our future?)
One doesn’t have to be a political junkie to notice that the ad chides three candidates: Binay, who’s facing corruption allegations, Duterte, who’ve repeatedly claimed that he will shoot criminals if necessary, and Poe, who’s only halfway through her first term in the Senate.
A report in Rappler.com revealed that the owner of ACS Manufacturing, Alfonso Supetran Sr., also hails from Capiz which happens to also be Roxas’ home town. The administration standard-bearer served as Congressman of the province from 1993 to 2000. In a Facebook post, Supetran’s son and namesake unconvincingly claimed that the words “hindi pa handa” can also be used to describe Roxas. He has since deactivated his account.
This blatant attack ad masquerading as an advocacy campaign poses an interesting scenario for the COMELEC. The Omnibus Election Code and the Corporation Code both explicitly prohibit corporations from making contributions to candidates and their political parties. Section 36.9 of the Corporation Code for example states that “no corporation, domestic or foreign, shall give donations in aid of any political party or candidate or for purposes of partisan political activity.”
Note that the prohibition only covers corporate donations made directly to the candidates and their parties. In other words, companies can theoretically spend on ads supporting the candidates and political parties they prefer independently or on their own because there are no existing laws regarding it.
Just for reference, a 2010 decision by the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission case that corporations can spend unlimited sums of money on political campaigns as part of their freedom of speech as long as it is not done in coordination with political parties and the candidate themselves.
It is high time for the COMELEC to clarify its rule on this because otherwise, many corporations might exploit this obvious loophole and begin running more partisan ads sugarcoated as advocacy campaigns.