Image Source: newsinfo.inquirer.net

CHICAGO – Vice President Leni Robredo grudgingly paid P8 million ($160,000) as fee for her election counter-protest while her losing vice presidential rival, former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., gingerly parted with P36 million ($720,000).

In whatever way you look at it, there is something wrong – very wrong– with the Philippine political system, and it needs a major overhaul.

If Philippine Congress is really bent on changing the electoral process for the better, it would need to amend the Omnibus Elections Code in such a way that if there are contributors to a political party, their names, addresses and occupations (in the case of Philippine corporations, the names and addresses of said the corporations) should be publicly made available online. This would let the voters know the donors who had invested millions in certain candidates.

In the United States, the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 requires campaigns and political committees to report the names, addresses, and occupations of people who donat more than $200.

In her declaration, Vice President Robredo stated she had sourced the P8-million protest fee from her relatives. If Congress passes a law that requires the disclosure of the names, addresses and occupations of campaign contributors, Filipinos would know her relatives who donated funds for Robredo’s counter-protest.

How do we know if Ms. Robredo or Bongbong were merely using the names of their relatives as contributors and the actual contributors are people who are laundering money to conceal their nefarious activities?

In the U.S., the Internal Revenue Service can tell if contributors have the capacities to make huge contributions based on previous tax records.

In the Philippines, Congress should pass a law requiring donors of big amounts,  say more than P1 million ($20,000) to issue waivers that would allow the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC) to examine their bank records. This would enable the two government agencies to know if the contributors are really sourcing their donations from legitimate sources.

Also, candidates should have spending limit. In the U.S., candidates may spend up to $50,000 (P2 million) from their own funds..

In her SALN (statement of assets, liabilities and net worth) Ms. Robredo submitted before the 2016 elections, she declared a cash assets of P10,273,803 ($205,476) acquired in “different years.” With this amount, she should have no problem raising the P8 million payment ffor her counter-protest.

With her declaration in her SOCE (statement of contributions and expenditures) that she did not spend money from her personal fund, the Vice President does not need to return the P8,400,000 she owes her relatives. This would enable her to pay the P8 million balance for her counter-protest.

But how can someone trust Ms. Robredo when she did not even declare in her SALN the $50,000 (P2,250,000) cash award her late husband, Secretary Jesse Robredo, received for winning the Ramon Magsaysay Award? She had claimed she deposited the money in a time deposit account, the interest income of which she uses as travel expenses for her family. She did not also disclose the P500,000 ($US11,111) her family received for the “accidental loss” Malayan Insurance had paid to her family for the plane crash death of Secretary Robredo.

In her liabilities stated in her SALN, Mrs. Robredo declared that she obtained a loan of P1,000,000 from the Estate of Marcelina Robredo (her mother-in-law); P2,000,000 from the Estate of Jose Robredo (her father-in-law); P1,650,000 from her brother-in-law Jose Robredo, Jr.; P2,500,000 from her sister-in-law, Dr. Jocelyn Austria; and P1,250,000 from her mother, Salvacion Gerona, for a total of P8,400,000.

If the same relatives were her sources of her P8-million counter-protest fee, she would be beholden to them.

But if she publicly identifies the individual and corporate contributors of more than P1 million ($20,000), this would expand her base of supporters outside her family members. This would also let voters who are the rest of her financial supporters.

In her SOCE, she declared that she received a total of P423,163,737.34 ($ 9,403,638), over P406 million ($ 9,022,222) of which was cash received from various sources; more than P192,000 ($4,267) in kind from various sources, and P16 million ($355,555) in kind from the Liberal Party.

In the U.S., campaign contributions never end up in the pocket of politicians. They end up in the political parties of the politicians, who used the funds in “winding down” expenses such payment for advertising, campaign staff, campaign travel, fundraising, etc. They may not use the money for personal expenses or for any purpose not related to the campaign.

If there is such a law in place in the Philippines, either Vice President Robredo or former Senator Marcos would not be struggling to pay for their election counter-protest and protest fees, respectively, because they could get it from their surplus campaign funds.

Congress should pass a law that would make automatic the disclosure of personal information of campaign contributors or names and addresses of corporate donors.

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Joseph is a former reporter of the Manila Bulletin, former president of the Rizal-Metro Manila Reporters Association and former president of the Chicago chapter of the National Press Club of the Philippines. A prolific reporter, Lariosa writes a column and news stories for the Filipino Star News and other Filipino community newspapers in the US as well as for GMA News and the Manila Bulletin.


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