The Philippines is known for being a fun country. The culture – an eclectic mix of Spanish, American, Japanese, Chinese and Asian – is rich in tradition. Fiestas are a common aspect of that culture, where Filipinos celebrate feast days of every kind. I like to think, though, that one of the grandest fiestas is the country’s general elections.
The general elections in the Philippines are held once every six years. This was enshrined in the 1987 Constitution, departing from the previous election practice that was held every four years. On May 9, 2022, Filipinos will elect – among others – the President, Vice President, 12 Senators, 308 members of the House of Representatives, 81 governors and vice-governors, 780 provincial board members, 1,634 mayors and vice mayors and 13,546 city and municipal councilors. That is over 16,000 posts up for election in one day. Perhaps, there are more.
While the number of posts is already overwhelming, the number of candidates running for those positions is even more so. In the last elections in 2016, 18,083 electoral positions were to be filled. The field of candidates was a total of 44,871 or an equivalent of 2.5 candidates for every post. Surely, this is testament to the vibrancy and robustness of democracy in the country. It is clear evidence that any government should be by the people, for the people and of the people. Filipinos, indeed, know how to celebrate the power of the ballot.
The economic significance of these electoral numbers, on the other hand, is the expected amount of money that each candidate will spend on their campaign. Campaign spending is, by law, limited. In 2016, the cap was 10 pesos per voter for Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates. The cap for those running for Senator or local positions was P3.00 per voter.
Last June 2020, the House of Representatives passed House Bill 6095, raising the spending limits for every registered voter in their constituency. For Presidential, Vice-Presidential and Senatorial candidates, the cap has been raised to 50 pesos. For other local posts, the limit was raised to 30 pesos. The Comelec is targeting to register a total of around 65 million Filipinos for the 2022 elections. If you do the math, that is a very significant amount of money that will ploughed into the economy during the official campaign period that starts in February.
Add to that the pre-campaign spending and the numbers become even more startling. In 2016, it was reported that spending by candidates prior to the official campaign period run up to P6.7 billion. That was compared to the P76.83 million the Philippine government spent on promoting the “It’s more fun in the Philippines” campaign of the Department of Tourism in 2015. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reportedly estimated the amount of P6.7 billion could have been used to build 23,000 permanent housing units for those who survived Typhoon Yolanda and 13,000 public-school classrooms. Meantime, in the present day, the Department of Budget and Management is looking for funds to pay for the 43 million back wages of government nurses. The numbers are staggering, indeed.
Of course, the dynamics of the 2022 general elections will likely change in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. The landscape of traditional mass media has changed, for one. Broadsheets have shifted online and the number of major broadcast networks has been diminished with the non-renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise. Digital advertising has soared and social media has taken on an unprecedented centrality as far as information sources are concerned. Campaign gatherings are now limited in line with protocols on physical distancing. The traditional pressing of the flesh and shaking of hands is out the window. Door to door campaigning will give way to e-mail blasting. How this will impact on spending is yet to be seen, of course, but it does not dilute the potential amounts of campaign spending by candidates.
In addition, the government will likely boost fiscal spending before this is halted under campaign rules. Build-Build-Build projects will – are – being escalated and rushed to completion as trophies to be touted by incumbents. Ayuda or social spending will also be ramped up to appeal to the mass base. Of course, vaccination programs will be vigorously rolled-out to appeal to local constituencies.
All in all, the coming elections will be a significant contributor to stimulating economic recovery. Consumer spending will, hopefully, return. Businesses will increase production. Employment will rise. Government revenues will be replenished. All these augur well for a revitalization of the economy. It will not be the magic pill that will fix all our problems but it will certainly help thrust us toward better days… with a renewed mandate with our newly elected national and local leaders.