'NOW SHOWING': Comelec to look into digital shorts starring senatorial bets

Jaehwa Bernardo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 06 2019 07:21 PM

Several senatorial candidates, including Sonny Angara (above), have been starring in short films produced by VinCentiments. Screengrab

MANILA — A Commission on Elections (Comelec) official said the poll body will ask for the production costs of short films produced by a theater group and posted on social media, which features several senatorial candidates and are thus considered advertisements.

Candidates who star in the films produced by and published on social media accounts of VinCentiments must report the production costs to the poll body or declare it on their Statement of Contribution and Expenditures (SOCE), said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez.

“These are well-produced digital shorts. Let’s not call it a commercial anymore, it’s almost a short movie, right? A short film. So there is substantial cost to that,” Jimenez said in an interview.

Jimenez said the poll body would ask the accounting details from the candidates featured in the films and from the production team.

“We are closely watching that and at the proper time, we will ask for an accounting of how much was spent for those ads,” he said.

Under a Comelec resolution dated Jan. 30, blogs and social media pages not affiliated with a candidate or political party but “has for its primary purpose the endorsement of a candidate” are considered “additional official blogs or social media pages of a candidate.” 

Among the parameters that the poll body checks in social media advertisements are the cost of production and cost of promotion, according to Jimenez.

Jimenez added that the cost of promotion online is “zero.”

VinCentiments is the name of the social media accounts of Central Luzon-based theater group SAWAKAS. The group's films, which mostly tackle love and relationships, have been a hit among netizens since 2018.

The group's Facebook page has been liked by 1.2 million users and followed by 1.7 million.

Sonny Angara, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito, and Sergio “Serge” Osmeña III are the senatorial aspirants who have appeared in VinCentiments films since the campaign period for national candidates began last Feb. 12.

Angara and Osmeña starred in several VinCentiments videos even prior to the campaign period.

In the digital shorts, the candidates supposedly portray themselves while giving advice, mostly on love, to other characters.

’Clearly campaigning’

While the candidates do not directly promote their campaign or platforms via the films, Jimenez said their appearances are “clearly campaigning.”

“They are presenting themselves as a person who is relatable, who can relate to the electorate and therefore, electable,” Jimenez explained.

Senatorial candidates JV Ejercito and Serge Osmeña star in VinCentiments films. Screengrab

SAWAKAS writer and director Darryl Yap said their group was not paid to produce short films for the candidates, adding that the team only received “gifts” such as “dinners” and “movie passes.”

Yap said he allows only candidates he supports to appear in their films.

“I only cast actors carrying my confidence. Same goes with them (candidates). Hindi ko palalabasin sa page namin ang hindi ko sinusuportahan at pinaniniwalaan,” said Yap.

(I won’t allow candidates whom I don’t support and believe in to appear in our page.) 

“We don't entertain kasi kapag sila ang lalapit though marami,” he added.

(We don't entertain when they're the ones asking to make appearances though there are many.) 

Jimenez said that since the candidate took part in the film, they become part of the production, which needs to be accounted for.

“If the page owner is not paid, that goes into what we’re saying that distribution is free,” he said.

If the production team worked for free, the film would be considered a donated advertisement, which still needs to be reported to the Comelec, said Jimenez.

Views, likes not equal to votes

Political analyst Dennis Coronacion said the appearance of candidates in the films may appeal to voters, especially to the youth. 

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ABS-CBN News

“Sila 'yong nakababad sa social media,” he said.

(They're the ones exposed to social media.) 

While the candidates gain exposure through the VinCentiments films, Coronacion said “likes” and “views” do not automatically translate to votes.

Coronacion added that candidates have nothing to lose if they try all possible ways of social media campaigning.

“If you’re running for a position, you should try to involve yourself into everything. Kahit ‘yong mga bago [even the new ones] like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter,” he said.