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The curious case of Bong Go: ‘Poorest’ is biggest ad spender

By MALOU MANGAHAS
Philippine Center
for Investigative Journalism . 

Conclusion

IT is the case of Bong Go, the candidate with the lowest net worth among the top 20 adspenders, that remains the most intriguing. After all, the poorest managed to buy the most ad spots.

As early as June 2018, or four months before he filed his certificate of candidacy, paid ads featuring taped voice and video clips of Go had begun airing on TV and radio stations in Manila, Davao City, Cagayan de Oro, and Zamboanga.

At the time, Go was still Duterte’s special assistant. Yet in December 2018, after he was supposed to have resigned when he filed his candidacy for senator, at least 30 ads about the Malasakit Center program of the Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) featured Go as its supposed chief sponsor. The ads aired during the Christmas holidays on television.

Except for promoting Go’s run for the Senate, nothing much is new about the Malasakit Centers. These are actually a refurbished one-stop-shop for indigents seeking medical assistance under the same, usual program for indigents that the DOH, DSWD, Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, and Philippine Amusement Gaming Corp. have been supporting for years now, even before Duterte became president. At present, 21 Malasakit Centers have opened across the nation; in all but one, the pilot site in the Visayas, Go had attended events as guest speaker.

The President himself has lent Go’s candidacy a special push, more than any of the other administration candidates. Duterte’s photo appears as “Tatay Digong” side by side with Go as “Kuya Bong” in tarpaulins on the façade of the Malasakit Centers, government agencies, and barangay halls, as well as on posters and billboards all over the country’s towns and cities. Duterte has also appeared in pre-campaign ads featuring Go as someone whose supposed only vice — bisyo — is “serbisyo” or service.

Too, some civil servants have exposed on social-media posts that certain government agencies have been required to post tarpaulins bearing the image of Go.

“Unfortunately,” says former Election Commissioner Lim, “due to a Supreme Court ruling and as restated by the Civil Service Commission in its Memorandum Circular No. 02, Series of 1992,”  the President, the Vice President, Cabinet members, all other elective officials, and their personal and confidential staff “are deemed to be holding political offices and are not covered by the prohibition on electioneering or partisan political activity.”

Nonetheless, Lim says, “While it may be legal, the same remains to be morally reprehensible as our expectations of government officials who are using official time of the government are best spent on resolving the multitude of problems besetting our country rather than campaigning.”

He adds that such patently partisan actions by the President and senior executive and elective officials set “a bad precedent to create a distinction that the highest officials are exempt from this prohibition while the rest of them have to abide.”

And yet, despite all of Duterte’s special assist for his ex-special assistant, Go seems to still have found it necessary to go on what can be described as an aggressive ad campaign for his senatorial bid.

In 2018, on various television channels, Go was featured in 519 ad spots, compared with 185 for Harry Roque, 166 for Imee Marcos, and 62 for Francis Tolentino. TV networks require a “pay before broadcast” rule on political ads to compel candidates to pay up before their ads could air.

Also in 2018, out of 21,268 ad spots aired in various radio stations under the “social concerns” subcategory, nearly half or 9,278 ad spots featured “Bong Go” as brand, product, and advertiser.

Roque was featured in 3,324 radio ads, Marcos in 2,401 radio ads, and Tolentino in 651 radio ads. LP’s Mar Roxas was featured in 2,299 radio ad spots.

Monitoring reports by Nielsen Media showed that these “social concerns” and “policacy” or political advocacy ads started airing in January 2018, but hit steadily rising charts in June 2018, led by a flurry of ads placed by Go, Roque and Marcos.

For the whole of 2018, Nielsen Media monitored the adspend of the candidates under the “social concerns” subcategory of ads on TV, radio, print, and outdoor platforms.

In January 2019, Nielsen Media’s monitoring report focused on TV only.

The top adspenders among the candidates for senator, by order of value of TV ads only for the 13-month period ending January 2019, are: 

• Bong Go, P422,498,647;

• Imee Marcos, P413,160,423;

• Mar Roxas, P401,264,380;

• Harry Roque, P174,013,944;

• Sonny Angara, P156,739,657;

• Bam Aquino, P136,490,982;

• Grace Poe, P99,385,184;

• Francis Tolentino, P92,479,821;

• Cynthia Villar, P80,838,942;

• Gary Alejano, P76,403,080;

• Friends of JPE (Juan Ponce Enrile), P72,552,000;

• Bong Revilla, P51,213,850;

• Pia Cayetano, P46,027,000;

• Nancy Binay, P37,131,740;

• JV Ejercito, P26,387,900;

• Koko Pimentel, P22,798,000;

• Jinggoy Estrada, P21,945,000;

• Zajid Mangudadatu, P21,357,000;

• Bong Revilla Family, P13,257,000; and

• Jiggy Manicad, P11,919,03.

(With research by Vino Lucero and infographics by Arnel Rival, PCIJ, February 2019)

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