WHAT FUNDRAISERS DECLARE
IS WHAT CANDIDATES GET
By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
(© 2019 Journal GlobaLinks)
CHICAGO (JGL) — A Filipino candidate may now raise, solicit and collect campaign contributions from overseas as long as his fundraiser is at least a dual Filipino citizen and has his full trust and confidence.
This was the ruling by the commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc as they dismissed the charges against Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo for “soliciting or receiving contributions from foreign sources” and for not reporting to the Comelec the names of foreign donors.
These two of the three criminal charges were brought against Ms. Robredo as "first impression" or a precedent-setting test case shortly after she handily beat her rival, Atty. Nelly Favis Villafuerte, in the congressional race of the third district of Camarines Sur in the 2013 mid-term elections.
VOTED & VOTER:
VICE PRESIDENT LENI G. ROBREDO receives a supporter, voter, and fellow Bikolano Mr. Marlon L. Pecson of Daraga, Albay, Philippines and Chicago, Illinois when Mr. Pecson paid a courtesy call on the Vice President's office in Quezon City, Philippines recently. (Marlon L. Pecson)
The widow of former Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo was also accused of vote buying thru cash and in-kind, giving away farm inputs and implements, barangay cash grants in violation of Sec. 261 (a)(1) and (o) of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC). These accusations did not stick because, at the time the alleged vote buying was committed, Ms. Robredo was still a private individual and has no access to government funds.
The resolution of the preliminary investigation came more than four years since Ms. Villafuerte filed the case on May 23, 2013, exceeding the Constitutional limit to resolve a pending case in any court within four years. It took more than a year for the Comelec en banc to grant the request of philamessenger.com to obtain a copy of the resolution, which could have easily been posted on the Comelec website as envisioned by Republic Act 8782, which protects authentic email messages. To obtain a copy of the resolution, it cost PHP10 (US$ 0.19) per page for the first 10 pages and PHP2 (US$0.04) per page after 10 pages. The resolution is consist of 45 pages, costing a total of PHP506 (US$9.73).
This reporter had to look for a special courier, who had to take a day off from work, present a government-issued ID to the Comelec, obtain, scan and email the documents to this reporter, who spent more than US$60 (PHP3,120). Hello, Congress, where is the Freedom of Information Act?
Ms. Villafuerte’s husband, former Governor and former Congressman Luis R. Villafuerte filed the complaint when he saw a Facebook post of a volunteer of Ms. Robredo thanking Filipinos and Filipino Americans for supporting her candidacy.
ATTY. NELLY FAVIS VILLAFUERTE, the losing candidate against congressional candidate Leni G. Robredo of the third district of Camarines Sur in the 2013 mid-term elections, who filed the case against then winning Third District Rep. Leni G. Robredo, is shown in this photo. (Facebook photo)
In reviewing the recommendation of Bicol Region V Comelec Regional Director Romeo B. Fortes’ “finding (of) failure to establish existence of probable cause against Ms. Robredo,” the Comelec Law Department agreed with Mr. Fortes who said that the thank-you note posted online was by a “third person (and) worded as: 'Many thanks for Overseas Filipinos and Friends who gave their support to Atty. Leni Robredo’s campaign'” and the source was leni robredo.ph/0630 which Ms. Robredo said she has no knowledge how the same was created.
If it came from her, Ms. Robredo told Mr. Fortes, the post would have read, “[T]hank you for those who supported me in my candidacy.”
BEING GRATEFUL IS A VIRTUE
In her counter-affidavit, Ms. Robredo elaborated, “Basic courtesy dictates that when one receives support, one expresses gratitude. It is only unfortunate that complainant was again quick to speculate that the respondent was thanking non-Filipinos.
FORMER GOVERNOR and former Congressman Luis R. Villafuerte is shown here with reporter Joseph G. Lariosa during an interview at Mr. Villafuerte’s home in Naga City in the Philippines in 2016. (JGL Photo)
“Respondent is truly lucky to have supporters but supporters must not be taken always in the concept of money. There are many ways to support even if one is out of the country including campaigning to relatives in the 3rd District of Camarines Sur.
“Support even includes emotional, psychological and moral support. And for all these support, the respondent is forever thankful.”
In denying Mr. Villafuerte’s motion for reconsideration received on March 1, 2017 for lack of merit and affirming the Commission en banc’s Minute Resolution No. 16-0775 dated Dec. 20, 2016 adopting in toto the recommendation of Mr. Fortes dismissing the case against Ms. Robredo, Director Maria Norina S. Tangaro-Casingal of the Comelec Law Department quoted the Supreme Court decision in Kilosbayan, Inc. v. Comelec, G.R. No. 128054, Oct. 16, 1997 as saying, the preliminary investigation “is not an occasion for the Comelec to, as a duty, spoon-fed the complainant with evidence need to prove its case.”
FAILS TO PROVE AUTHENTICITY
Complainant Villafuerte failed to prove the authenticity and genuineness of the Facebook account listing the names of the donors. He also failed to present an information technology (IT) expert to prove the authenticity of the Facebook posts as required by RA 8782. And when the respondent denied the ownership of the same, complainant remained silent and there was no evidence presented to prove its authorship, according to Comelec Law Department’s recommendation to Comelec en banc.
POLITICAL CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS:
THESE WERE some of the cash and check that were collected by Ms. Loida Nicolas-Lewis during fundraising held in Carol Stream, Illinois in 2013 to support the campaign of then congressional candidate Leni G. Robredo for the third district of Camarines Sur in the Philippines. (JGL Photo by JOSEPH G. LARIOSA)
The Villafuertes filed a case against Ms. Robredo for violation of Sec. 96 of OEC, which prohibits a candidate from soliciting campaign contributions from American citizens, Filipinos who became naturalized American citizens and remain as foreign nationals; Foreign entities; and
Filipinos American dual citizens because they still have a “foreign national component.”
|RELATED STORY: RIVAL, FIRM AGAINST LENI’S CASES|
In a motion for reconsideration to the Resolution by the Law Department of the Comelec filed by Mr. Villafuerte, he claimed that the PHP 500,000 (US$9,615) campaign contributions Ms. Robredo “received … from (Filipino American Loida) Nicolas-Lewis and from Filipinos abroad (and) she (Ms. Robredo) reported in her SOCE (Statement of Contribution and Expenditures or SOCE) to the Comelec that she received only from the personal money of Nicolas-Lewis and none from other Filipinos abroad, despite Nicolas-Lewis stating in her affidavit that she turned over to Robredo not only her personal money but also money collected from Filipinos abroad.”
WHERE ARE THE COLLECTIONS FROM OTHER DONORS, VILLAFUERTE ASKS
Mr. Villafuerte said that “by crediting Nicolas-Lewis as the source of the funds together with other money collected from Filipinos abroad and not reporting the latter in her SOCE(, it) is tantamount to not reporting the actual names of the contributors.”
SUPPORT ROBREDO FOR CONGRESS:
HERE IS THE screenshot of the names of some of the donors who contributed to the congressional campaign of Leni G. Robredo for the third district of Camarines Sur in the Philippines. (Contributed photo)
The former Governor also argued, “The existence and contents of the website lenirobredo.ph (which were adopted and admitted by Robredo by using the affidavit of Nicolas-Lewis), and not the genuineness and authorship of the Facebook account is the real issue.”
In her affidavit adopted by Ms. Robredo, Ms. Nicholas Lewis said, "The funds I received came from personal account of Filipino Citizens although some also had the names of their husbands put in the website (i.e. Dr. Edward and Lorna Imperial Seidel) for customary reasons, while some put the names of their company in the website for “advertising purposes.”
“This kind of listing was allowed in the website as donors’ list xxx where donors are free to put in any name including fictional ones for personal reasons.”
“At any rate, the money which I turned over to Atty. Leni Robredo was from my own personal funds and from funds collected from Filipino Citizens living in the United States.”
In dismissing Mr. Villafuerte’s motion for reconsideration, the Comelec Law Department said that when Ms. Nicolas-Lewis placed all the donors under her name, it was in keeping with the provision of Sec. 98 that says, “No person shall make any contribution in any name except his own…”
The Law Department added, “there is nothing in Section 98 that requires a donor to specifically name all other donors who contributed to the entire donations given to a candidate.”
Penalties for the violation Sections 96 and 98 of OEC are imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years without probation and disqualification from holding public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage.
LENI HAD NO ACCESS TO GOVERNMENT FUNDS
In dismissing the complaint of vote buying thru cash and kind, vote buying through in-kind, farm inputs and implements, other types of vote buying, vote buying through barangay cash grants against Ms. Robredo for violation of Sec. 261 (a)(1) and (o) of the OEC, the Comelec en banc said “complainant was not able to substantiate the allegations that were violated in the above-mentioned provision” as Ms. Villafuerte “was not able to provide ample evidence for probable cause to exist that Respondent was directly responsible for the said acts complained of.” At the time of the alleged vote buying, Ms. Robredo said she could not have committed such violations because she was still a private individual.
LISTENING TO THE PITCH:
AMONG THOSE WHO attended the fund-raising led by Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis in suburban Carol Stream, Illinois in 2013 are shown in this photo. (JGL Photo)
But the Comelec en banc directed the Law Department to “conduct a fact-finding investigation on the possible violation of the election laws against local officials, particularly Municipal Treasurers, who were seen disbursing the funds.” This reporter is still waiting for the comment of Director Tangaro-Casingal if the Municipal Treasurers had been investigated.
The Villafuertes initially filed the case against Ms. Robredo before Atty. Noriel Badiola, Provincial Election Supervisor (PES) of Camarines Sur who warned her of waiving her right to submit her counter-affidavit for failure to file it within a prescribed deadline. When Ms. Villafuerte threatened to file administrative charges against Mr. Badiola for allowing Ms. Robredo to file her answer to the complaint 41 days after the prescribed deadline, Mr. Badiola elevated the case to Mr. Fortes.
When Mr. Villafuerte followed up from Mr. Fortes whether he had resolved the preliminary investigation of the case after several months, Mr. Fortes endorsed the case to the Comelec Law Department without answering Mr. Villafuerte’s question.
SOME OF THE FILIPINOS and Filipino Americans led by Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis (sixth from left, second row) who contributed to the congressional campaign of Leni G. Robredo for the third district of Camarines Sur in the Philippines are shown in this photo in suburban Carol Stream, Illinois in 2013. (JGL Photo by JOSEPH G. LARIOSA)
The delay in the resolution of the preliminary investigation prompted Mr. Villafuerte to file the case before the Naga City Fiscal, which dismissed the case as the matter was pending with the Comelec. The OEC allows a City or Provincial Fiscal or the Department of Justice to conduct a preliminary investigation of election offenses within four months only if the Comelec so requests.
Mr. and Mrs. Villafuerte did not respond to email messages for comment if they are going to file an appeal.
Ms. Loida Nicolas Lewis said, “Comelec is on the right track. Thanks be to God.”
Marlon L. Pecson, a supporter and cross-voter for Ms. Robredo, said, “I welcome the dismissal. The more this will encourage and empower Fil-Ams to take an active part in the next elections.”
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