The cost of winning: How politicians fund their campaigns

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 12) — Election in the Philippines is known to be a very expensive endeavor.

A veteran politician, who refused to be named, told CNN Philippines that in 2016, at least three senatorial bets had to spend at least ₱500 million each to mount a senatorial campaign.

Only one of them landed a seat at the Senate.

With limited resources and an above average-paying job, where do politicians get the money to spend hundreds of millions of pesos during elections?

The same politician said that if a candidate is faring well in pre-election surveys, millions of pesos in donations from businessmen are expected to pour.

For Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III, some lobby groups give donations come election time to politicians who pushed their legislative agenda.

"Pagdating ng election, 'yung lobby groups na' yun, 'pag pinagbigyan mo sila, sigurado susuportahan ka nun. They campaign for you. Some give donations... You must reflect in your Comelec report and contributions. Otherwise, you will be disqualified," Sotto said.

Sotto also hinted that some politicians are not disclosing all donations given to them for their campaign.

Meanwhile, a businessman who refused to be identified, said many lawmakers earn money by accepting bribe to support or push for controversial bills and even franchises.

Sometimes, the businessman said lawmakers will just sit on a franchise or a bill unless someone gives them "pampadulas" or bribe to move the measure.

But for experts, one of the main sources of campaign funds is still government funds, which are pork barrel for legislators.

Political Science Professor Julio Teehankee said the tremendous amount needed to mount a political campaign in this country is the source of corruption in the country.

"And that is the reason why our politicians are susceptible not only to corporate interest, lobbying money, but also the underground economy, illicit activities either syndicates, drug money, or even kidnapping monies used," Teehankee explained.

Speaking to CNN Philippines, a veteran politician said some of the worst and most expensive vote buying incidents happen in the poorest provinces in the country.

To be able to buy votes, the veteran politician said some politicos demand about 20 percent kickback from contractors hired to build infrastructure in their districts.

For Senator Panfilo "Ping" Lacson, the negative image of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), known as pork barrel, is the reason why he refused to accept his allocation – and why he continues to fight it.

Before the Supreme Court declared PDAF unconstitutional, Lacson said many contractors already complained to him about how legislators would demand 20 to 60 percent kickback on infrastructure projects.

The senator said this is why many government projects are substandard.

"Babawiin nila yan sa substandard na materials. Wala silang mapagkukunan eh. So babawasan nila yung rebars, babawasan nila semento, babawasan nila buhangin, papalitan ng lupa. That's the reason why bihira tayo makakita ng kalsada, mamasyal ka na sa buong pilipinas, na maayos ang pagkakagawa. Para bang ilang buwan lang kita mo sira na because kulang yung pundasyon, kulang sa bakal, kulang sa semento," Lacson lamented.

Lacson said many lawmakers continue getting kickbacks, which is unconstitutional, from government projects until now.

"I've talked to several conractors and sinasabi nila meron pa rin. Bumaba nga lang, naging 10 percent sa legislator, 5 percent sa implementing agency pero komisyon pa rin," Lacson revealed.

Like Teehankee, Ateneo School of Government Dean Ronald Mendoza said many politicos rationalize that they need to raise funds while in office in preparation for the elections.

"We heard in a particular province for instance that the war chest of one person who is a fat dynasty, running for the governorship, for 300,000 voters is ₱1,000 per voter. That's about ₱300 million," Mendoza said.

He added politicians also rationalize stealing money from public funds with the expectations of Filipinos that politicos need to provide them financial help.

"The way it has been justified is because you are de facto the patron, tumatakbo sa'yo ang mga kababayan natin, humihingi ng tulong, pampalibing, 'pag may nagkasakit na kamag-anak (They ask you for contributions for funeral, when their relatives got sick).

"These enables some of our leaders to rationalize na (that) they need to raise funds for these activities. It is a corruption of our democracy," Mendoza said.

Several sources confirmed vote buying costs a candidate about ₱1,000 per person in Metro Manila.

If a voter would divide ₱1,000 to the three years or 1,095 days a congressman, mayor or governor stays in office, a person's vote is only worth less than a peso everyday.

A peso is compared to millions politicos steal while in office, Mendoza pointed out.

"Binigay mo na nga sa napakaliit na halaga pero mas malaki ang ninakaw at nanakawin ng taong yun. Kitang kita naman na in some poorest governed areas, naglalakihan ang kanilang mga mansion, naglalakihan ang kanilang ari-arian, pero ang mahihirap, dumadami pa pero di nagbabago buhay nila," Mendoza lamented.

[Translation: You have given them the smallest amount, that person gets the bigger share. It's apparent in the governed areas, his or her properties grow, while the poor remains poor without any changes in their lives.]

Mendoza also said after winning, many politicians do give back to people through projects.

He, however, also pointed out many of those projects are corruption-laden, substandard, and are not really meant to improve the lives of their poor constituents.

The dean said some politicos intentionally keep many of their voters poor so they would remain dependent on them.

"I've already heard that quite sadly, some of the politicians admit that while there are poor people, they will continue to remain I power. It is a sad reality that we cannot go past this trap," Mendoza said.

"Nilo-lock niya yung pinagbentahan ng boto sa kahirapan dahil kailangan nya kumuha ng kumuha ng pera para sa kanyang boto in the future," Mendoza added.

[Translation: The candidates locked up in poverty the people whose votes they bought because they need to accumulate more money for their future votes.]

It has become a vicious cycle.

Politicos buy votes to win. The wrong person is put in position. Once in power, promises get broken. Politicos steal money – so they can buy votes again to win another election.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Children see this – and perpetuate the actions of their parents.

Experts, however, believe voters can still put an end to the vicious cycle.

During elections, all Filipino voters stand on equal footing. Everyone gets one vote each.

One ballot may seem too little to affect change, but experts said, if majority of Filipinos resist the politics of money and power, we may just make a difference and together, move the country forward.