(With updates from Malacanang and legislators)
A lot of people actually. And not everyone is a corrupt politician out to buy votes, a tax evader or a member of some criminal syndicate. Lots of folk are going to face problems because of Comelec Resolution 9688. You can read the full text of the resolution here.
The new Comelec rule bans the following:
- Withdrawing or cashing checkes, or pawning anything for more than P100,000
- A series on encashments of checks worth more than P500,000
- Transporting more than P500,000 (the Comelec automatically deems it for the purpose of vote-buying)
Don’t get me wrong. I dig the motive. Vote-buying is a major problem every election. Guns, goons and gold: You need the latter to have the first two.
There’s ample reason to believe that a mad scramble for “contingency” funds is taking place among politicians and political parties at all levels of government. But gauging from reports across the country, politicians have been hoarding their cash (not to mention counterfeit money) for months now.
I remember actually seeing sacks of money being taken out of a room in a Makati mansion owned by a Manila congressional candidate in 2001. He’d been throwing money left and right during the campaign while depriving workers of salaries for months. That situation led to a walkout by staff and he summoned executives to his home. After hours of talk, he finally got the message: no pay, no work, and the resulting bad press could hurt his candidacy. And out came the money, in sacks, literally.
The Comelec has ordered the country’s security forces to include a money watch in their checkpoint duties. But with assaults and killings and general mayhem piling up across the country, the Philippine National Police may be hard-pressed to expend additional energy into keeping tabs on the transport of money. Unless, of course, there are potential “incentives” to be had.
The Comelec also ordered the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (Central Bank) to implement Resolution 9688. The BSP has demurred, claiming it would disrupt business and trade and industrial activity. It has also noted that the resolution violates some banking laws. A constitutional body, of course, is still mandated to operate within the law. But those two institutions have more than enough lawyers to argue the issue. Let me just stick to what effect the resolution could have on ordinary people and business entities.
There’s a restaurant owner rushing the interiors of a third branch of a popular (but still small-scale) joint. Opening’s set for May 15. There is no architectural firm or interior design company doing the project. It’s mano-mano, hands-on, with the help of a small contractor. The contractor can meet the salaries of its crew. But the client buys all hardware and pays for other expenses. The client is still trying to get banks to allow acceptance of credit cards. His credit card limit doesn’t cover the cost of the project materials. It’s down to the kitchen and bathrooms now. No appliance center in malls or any distributer of industrial kitchen implements will take checks. Three stoves alone cost more than P100,000. He needs three days to install these. What does he do now?
A small construction company is undertaking its first three big projects. Construction workers are usually under casual status. There are no payroll deposits here. Work hours are computed and everyone is paid in cash, at the end of the week. Three projects — should the workers wait till after elections?
And here’s one closer to home. What happens during a serious family emergency that, say, lands someone in the ICU or in the operating room? What happens when you’ve been in the hospital for a bypass or angioplasty for two weeks or more? Even with health insurance, the family is bound to have to pay in six or seven digits. (Friends had to scramble to help a friend whose husband went for angioplasty two weeks ago and the amount IS in seven-digits.) Unless you’re a VIP or connected, your personal check won’t be accepted or, at least, clearance won’t be given until the check clears. Ditto IOUs. Or they probably will but only after a stressful argument. It’s Wednesday; if checks come from banks different from the hospital account, that’s a three-day wait. What now?
And even if you own a business that does transactions by check, what happens when suppliers line up to encash and that amount goes beyond P500,000? Those suppliers also have their own payments to make. It goes on and on… and don’t say just a few companies operate on this level. What does P500,000 give you these days?
You can always present cops with proof of need, of course. But for decades now the government has been trying automation of procedures precisely because it wants to do away with the human factor and the interaction and negotiations that often fuel corruption.
You can also apply for an exemption. But this resolution’s effectivity is IMMEDIATE. To get an exemption you need the Comelec en banc or the Chairman when it’s not in question, or a provincial director or the National Capital Region director. The Comelec itself has repeatedly said it is understaffed, its personnel overworked. You add a stampede of people pleading for exemptions and you’ll have officials whose attention could be diverted from other important tasks. And again, the idea behind automation is not just efficiency but doing away with red tape and the elbow-rubbing that often abets corruption.
There’s no doubt that shady campaign financing is the root of most corruption. Payback time comes between elections. But let’s not forget either that there are many legitimate expenses in the homestretch of an election. Any final rally in any major city will definitely cost more than P100,000 — stage, sound system, big screen, food catering (even just for campaign staff and guests), the motorcade, banners, streamers, murals etc. Even if a candidate or political party is scrupulous and pays in checks for better accounting (and accountability), what happens if all those suppliers line up to cash their checks, say, Friday, all at the same time?
But the right course would be to put in systems — and the manpower and funds — to address the problem right from the start of every political campaign period. This resolution, I’m afraid, has more bark than bite and, as is wont in this country, the innocents get trapped and the fat cats laugh all the way to the next anomalous contract.
(Update: Communications Secretary Sonny Coloma has just announced Malacanang’s support for the Comelec money ban resolution. Coloma says the important thing is the Comelec’s good intentions. And all the while I thought the law EVERYONE was supposed to follow the law, not turn this upside down on a whim, no matter how well-intentioned.
Senators Ping Lacson and Ralph Recto have slammed the resolution, calling it illegitimate because it upends existing legislation — anti-money laundering lawm bank secrecy law. One could also argue about the constitutionality of this new Comelec rule. Reports have said Comelec Commissioners decided to hold a special en banc to review the issue.)