The camp of Vice-President Leni Robredo was warned by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) about its crowdfunding drive for her upcoming campaign. Robredo made her announcement to run for president in the 2022 national elections last October 8. Diehard Robredo supporters have formed Team Leni Robredo as the campaign volunteer organization which runs parallel with her official campaign team headed by campaign manager former Sen. Bam Aquino. Team Leni Robredo made a public call for volunteer donations starting at P50.00 up to any amount which an individual can afford.
COMELEC Commissioner Rowena Guanzon drew attention to the crowdfunding initiative because the Omnibus Election Code prohibits candidates from accepting campaign donations from foreign individuals and organizations. This includes Filipinos residing abroad who hold dual citizenship, under which definition they do not qualify because their principal residence is outside of the Philippines. COMELEC Campaign Finance Office (CFO) officer-in-charge Efraim Bag-id also flagged potential flaws in the crowdfunding drive, particularly with regard to identifying the donors. The candidates’ campaigns are required to submit a Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) within the specified period after the conduct of the election. Recall that, in 2016, the Liberal Party was late in submitting its SOCE but was given an extension by then COMELEC Chair Andres Bautista. This was unprecedented. The late submmission or non-submission of the SOCE carries with it the penalty of the disqualifcation of the candidate of the party from holding office and a perpetual ban on public office after.
Congressman Pantaleon Alvarez filed a case questioning the validity of the extension granted by Bautista to the Liberal Party. Nothing eventually came out of it and the winning candidates of the Liberals went on to assume the posts they won in the 2016 election, including Robredo. Bautista went on to resign in the wake of the scandal he found himself in after his wife, Patricia, revealed dozens of bank accounts which allegedly was the fruit of payoffs Bautista received when he was the Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), which is tasked with the recovery of the Marcos wealth, as well as those he allegedly received as COMELEC Chair from its automation service provider, Smartmatic. Nothing has come out of the investigation into Bautista’s case and he is in exile in the US even if the two countries have an existing extradition treaty.
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Robredo’s Spokesperson, Barry Gutierrez, clarified that the Office of the Vice-President (OVP) was aware of the initiative taken by the volunteers but that the funds raised would not go directly to the OVP. Where would it go then if not for use by the campaign? In the 2016 election, Robredo ran for Vice-President with the full backing of the administration of then President Noynoy Aquino. While the election code also prohibits the use of government resources in the campaign, the COMELEC seldom imposes the prohibitions expressly stipulated under the law. The same is true for the Opposition political parties.
The COMELEC is composed of one chair and six commissioners. They are Sheriff Abbas, Rowena Guanzon, Socorro Inting, Marlon Casquejo, Antonio Kho and Aimee Ferolino. Come February 2022, Abbas, Guanzon and Kho will be retiring and the President will be able to appoint replacements to the vacancies which results in all commissioners being appointed by President Duterte. The Opposition could use this against the administration if they don’t do well in the May 2022 polls. Coincidentally, the campaign period officially begins in February also.
In the meantime, the issue of the crowdfunding drive of Team Leni Robredo remains hanging with the eventual resolution most likely being that the monies be privately consolidated and donations turned over by a qualifiied individual or entity to the OVP.
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