Last October, current Vice President of the Philippines and Presidential candidate 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) did not have Robredo to run for her for the scheduled years.
After the launch of her campaign, a team of volunteers from ‘Team Leni Robredo’ who worked for the campaign launched the donation portal (donation.teamlenirobredo.com). During the opening days, donations from Philippine pesos 50 (P50) to Philippine pesos 20,000 (P20,000) poured in in support of the vice president’s campaign. Robredo gained the favor of many for her criticism of President Rodrigo Duterte’s (PDP-Laban) ruthless drug policy.
However, questions arose after a quirky inclusion on the ‘Team Leni Robredo’ volunteer page regarding accepted donations. Under the crowdfunding portal, a statement was available to certify that a donor is not a foreign citizen. The donor would select the option themselves before donating, making it possible for the volunteer site to accept donations from foreign citizens if no other measures had been taken.
According to sec. 95 of the Philippine electoral law:
Prohibited contributions. – No contribution may be made for purposes of partisan political activity, directly or indirectly, by any of the following:
…H. Foreigners and foreign companies.
On October 13, 2021, the Elections Commission (Comelec) took to Twitter to indirectly address the stipulation: “Foreigners cannot contribute to a Philippine candidate,” Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said on Twitter. “Commissioner Guanzon is right. Contributions from foreigners and foreign companies are prohibited,” said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez.
The conversation started in response to Vice President Robredo’s volunteer-led crowdsourcing campaign, but neither Comelec representative directly accused the campaign of wrongdoing; Commissioner Guanzon issued a moderate warning. “…That must be reported (candidates accepting foreign donations), and if they accept donations from banned donors, they could be charged with an election offense resulting in disqualification.”
The Robredo campaign has yet to answer questions about how the volunteer-based ‘Team Leni Robredo’ attempted to verify the citizenship of several donors. It’s also unclear whether or not the team attempted to independently verify outside of a checkbox 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 use of donations is also under discussion. Did the crowdfunding go specifically to Robredo’s campaign, was it used for advertising, did the donations pay for anything related to the campaign, did the volunteers use the money for any site-related bills?
Vice President Robredo’s team has yet to directly issue a public statement about the funds raised by “Team Leni Robredo” or that its campaign is directly coordinating with the volunteer group. Recent polls show Robredo is in second place, behind Marcos Jr., causing the campaign’s silence around the issue to raise eyebrows.
Comelec has the authority to examine the donations to verify that ‘Team Leni Robredo’ has correctly verified donors and to find out the exact role of the organizations within Robredo’s campaign. “Team Leni Robredo” is wildly expected to coordinate directly with the Vice President as she referred directly to the number of donations that went to the volunteer group last October.
With the election set for May 9, Robredo’s campaign doesn’t have much time to respond to electoral finance issues, nor does Comelec have much time to investigate possible violations of the law.