Last October, current Vice President of the Philippines and presidential aspirant Leni Robredo (Independent) launched her presidential campaign. Unlike her opponents Senator Manny Pacquiao (PDP-Laban), Francisco Damogaso (Aksyon Demokratiko), and Ferdinand Marcos Jr (Partido Federal ng Pilipinas) Robredo did not seem to have her run for office planned years.
After launching her campaign, a team of volunteers of 'Team Leni Robredo' working for the campaign launched the donation portal (donation.teamlenirobredo.com). In the opening days, donations ranging from 50 Philippine Peso (P50) to 20,000 Philippine Peso (P20,000) poured in as a show of support for the Vice President's campaign. Robredo gained favor from many due to her critique of President Rodrigo Duterte's (PDP-Laban) brutal drug policies.
However, questions came about after a peculiar inclusion on the 'Team Leni Robredo' volunteer page associated with accepted donations. Below the crowdfunding portal, an entry to declare a donor is not a foreign citizen was available. The donor would select the option themselves before donating, making it possible the volunteer site was accepting donations from foreign citizens if no other measures were in place.
According to Sec. 95 of Philippine election law:
Prohibited contributions. - No contribution for purposes of partisan political activity shall be made directly or indirectly by any of the following:
...h. Foreigners and foreign corporations.
On October 13, 2021, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) took to Twitter to address the provision indirectly, "Foreigners cannot contribute to any Filipino candidate," Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said on Twitter. "Commissioner Guanzon is correct. Contributions from foreigners and foreign corporations are prohibited," Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez responded.
The conversation began in response to Vice President Robredo's volunteer-led crowdsourcing campaign, yet neither Comelec representative directly accused the campaign of wrongdoing; Commissioner Guanzon did issue a temperate warning. "...That should be reported (candidates accepting foreign donations), and if they accept donations from prohibited donors, they could face an electoral offense charge, resulting in disqualification."
The Robredo campaign has yet to answer questions concerning how the volunteer-based 'Team Leni Robredo' attempted to verify the citizenship of various donors. It is also unclear whether or not the team did attempt to independently verify beyond a check box whether a donor was foreign or a citizen of the Philippines.
Since 'Team Leni Robredo' is not an official part of Vice President Robredo's campaign, the usage of donations also comes into question. Did the crowdfunding specifically go to Robredo's campaign, was it used for ads, did the donations pay for anything campaign-related, did the volunteers use the money for any site-related bills?
Vice President Robredo's team has yet to directly issue a public statement regarding the funds raised by 'Team Leni Robredo' or if her campaign is coordinating directly with the volunteer group. Recent polls show Robredo in second place, trailing Marcos Jr, therefore making the campaign's silence around the issue raise eyebrows.
Comelec does have the power to investigate the donations to verify whether 'Team Leni Robredo' verified donors properly and uncover the organizations' exact role within Robredo's campaign. It's wildly expected that 'Team Leni Robredo' coordinates directly with the Vice President, as she directly referenced the number of donations going into the volunteer group last October.
With the elections happening on May 9th, Robredo's campaign does not have a great deal of time to respond to matters of election finance, nor does Comelec have much time to investigate possible violations of law.
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