LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines (JGL) – The regional Commission on Elections (Comelec) director in Legazpi City will have an unenviable role of resolving a seminal question: Can a dual Filipino citizen allowed to vote in Philippine elections be allowed to contribute also to a political campaign?
Comelec Region 5 Director Romeo B. Fortes told this reporter that he already came down with a decision but he is keeping his decision up close to his vest. “I am going to make a recommendation to the Comelec national office but I am not going to disclose it to you because my recommendation is confidential,” Attorney Fortes, a human rights victim during martial law, explained.
His decision, if affirmed by the Philippine Supreme Court, will resonate to millions of Filipino overseas absentee voters, who would also like to contribute to political campaigns in the 2016 national elections and beyond.
Fortes’ resolution stemmed from three alleged Comelec violations filed against Atty. Maria Leonor “Leni” Gerona Robredo, who beat resoundingly Atty. Nelly Favis Villafuerte, for the third district congressional seat of Camarines Sur during the 2013 mid-term elections. The defeated candidate is the wife of powerful former Camarines Sur governor and former congressman Luis R. Villafuerte.
Rep. Robredo, widow of the revered former and the late Local Government and Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, was accused of violating Sec. 96 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) for soliciting and receiving campaign funds from foreign sources, which is punishable by imprisonment and disqualification for holding public office.
Robredo, who celebrated her birthday on April 23rd, is also accused of failing “to report to the Comelec the names of the actual contributor(s) to the latter’s campaign,” which is required by Sec. 98 of OEC. Section 98 prohibits “any person from making any contribution in any name except his own nor shall any candidate or treasurer of a political party receive a contribution or enter or record the same in any name other than that of the person by whom it was actually made.”
Robredo is also accused of “election offense of vote-buying, in violation of Sec. 261 (a) (1)” of OEC for making or offering to make “an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, entity, community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his/her vote in the election.”
She also accused of giving, offering or promising money or anything of value in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against a candidate or to withhold his/her vote in the election.
Robredo denies the vote-buying accusation, saying that as a private citizen before the elections, she was not capable of using public funds to buy votes.
The unlawful campaign solicitation arose from an open letter from Robredo “written at the behest of Loida N. Lewis, an American citizen” published on Facebook, seeking “solicitations from foreign sources,” “To support Atty. Leni Robredo’s campaign, please make/send checks to Mail check payable to Loida Lewis ITF (in trust for) Leni Robredo, P. O. Box 1080, Gracie Station, NY, NY 10028, For more information, visit: https:www.facebook.com/attyLeniRobredo.”
“MANY MORE FOREIGN NATIONALS”
Aside from Lewis the solicitation request resulted in the contribution of “many more foreign nationals,” who were listed as “natural-born American citizens or naturalized American citizens from whom campaign funds that were solicited and from whom Leni Robredo received campaign funds, namely, Dr. Edward Seidel, Atty. Rodel Rodis, Robert Federigan, Robert, Heiberger, Rainier Asprer and Richard Sublett.
Other donors were foreign entities, including The Unlimited Agency, Inc. and The Bicol U.S.A. of the Midwest, both based in Illinois; and Fundrazr, an online website based in Canada which was used to raise funds from Anonymous Donors abroad.
Lewis turned over P500,000 (US$11,363) to Robredo. This contribution came from the personal pocket of Ms. Lewis and “from personal accounts of Filipino citizens although some also had names of their husbands put in the website for customary reasons, while some put the names of their company in the website for advertising purposes.”
In her affidavit, Lewis added, “this kind of listing was allowed in the website as the donors’ list, 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 the United States.”
Using the legal maxim, “Ubi lex non distinguit nec nos distringuire debemos” or if the law does not distinguish, neither do we distinguish, a person who claims to have dual nationality, one is foreign, the other local, that person still has a foreign nationality component that makes it unlawful to solicit or receive political campaign contributions from said person.”
Complainant Villafuerte argued that such person (dual citizen) “still has a foreign nationality component that makes it unlawful to solicit or receive political campaign contributions from said persons because the law is explicit in that any foreign national, without distinction between a dual citizen and a non dual citizen is prohibited source of political campaign contribution.”
On the other hand, based on Sec. 98, Villafuerte argued that “even if the contributions are lawful, (it) will still constitute violations of Sec. 98 of the OEC if not recorded or reported in the true names of the respective contributors.”
Villafuerte argued that interpretation and application of Sec. 96 of the OEC must be strictly construed against the donors, the solicitors and recipients because the re-acquisition or retention of Filipino citizenship arose from taking of an oath of allegiance to the Philippine government and the Constitution frowns upon “dual allegiance when it clearly stated under Art. IV, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution” that “Dual allegiance of citizens is inimical to the national interest and shall be dealt with by law.”
Villafuerte added, “Republic Act No. 9225 a.k.a. Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act of 2003” did not exempt Filipinos with dual citizenship or dual allegiance, from providing contributions (thru soliciting or receiving) from the prohibited foreign sources indicated in Sec. 96 of the OEC. Therefore, they are not exempted from prohibition.”
In her counter-affidavit, Rep. Robredo denied “soliciting nor directly or indirectly accepting foreign donations.” She also denied setting up the solicitation website, saying complainants’ “conclusion is (not) only illogical but (it is also) baseless.”