By JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
NAGA CITY, Philippines (JGL) – Filipino dual citizens may be able to vote in Philippine elections but they certainly cannot donate to politicians running for office in the Philippines.
Former Governor and former Congressman Luis Robredo Villafuerte, a lawyer, told the Journal GlobaLinksthat even if his wife’s former rival to the Congressional seat in the last 2013 mid-term elections were to win the vice presidential elections on May 9, 2016, he has the goods to disqualify Rep. Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo upon conviction from among others for accepting campaign donations in the 2013 elections from Filipino dual citizens, one of the “four prohibited foreign sources,” which Mrs. Robredo was supposed to have violated under Sec. 96 in relation to Sec. 264 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC).
Villafuerte’s wife, Atty. Nelly Favis-Villafuerte, opposed and lost to Leni Robredo for the third Congressional seat in 2013 elections, a position Mr. Villafuerte is planning to reclaim in the May 9 presidential elections.
Mr. Villafuerte, who said the Chinese father of the late Secretary Jesse Robredo adopted the surname of his mother, Robredo, in claiming Filipino citizenship, said Jesse’s father’s original name was Lim Teng, who was born in China. Mr. Teng, Mr. Villafuerte said, “returned to China and died there.”
Among the elections offenses that Rep. Robredo was said to have committed was for accepting contributions to Leni Robredo’s campaign in 2013 from as follows:
2. Filipinos who became naturalized American citizens and remain as foreign nationals;
4. Filipinos, who became naturalized American citizens but opted to elect to be dual citizen under Republic Act 9225, because dual citizen under RA 9225 remains both an American citizen and a Filipino citizen.
Mr. Villafuerte explained that “prohibition for dual citizens to contribute to Leni Robredo’s political campaign is also covered by the prohibition. The law expressly prohibits soliciting or receiving from any ‘foreign national or foreign entity.’ And the word “any” includes dual citizens, since the latter has a foreign nationality component that is covered by the prohibition.”
The names of foreign nationals and foreign entities that were used as evidence against Mrs. Robredo by Mr. Villafuerte were based on Robredo’s own website, https://lenirobredo.ph, which listed donors on four categories of prohibited foreign sources.
ROBREDO IN DEFAULT FOR FILING COUNTER AFFIDAVIT AFTER 41 DAYS
Although, Ms. Robredo failed to submit her counter affidavit “not later than Aug. 6, 2013” deadline despite the Comelec warning that failure to do so “shall be considered waiver of respondent’s right to present her counter-evidence and the matter is deemed submitted for resolution and the Comelec Provincial Election Supervisor (PES), Atty. Noriel P. Badiola, declared Robredo in default, Robredo still submitted her counter-affidavit on Sept. 16, 2013 or 41 days after the deadline.
Because the PES “belatedly” admitted Robredo’s “counter-affidavit without allowing complainant Nelly F. Villafuerte to submit her objections and without prior notice and hearing in violation of the due process clause,” the PES “elevated the issue, including the hearing of the case to the Region V Election Director Atty. Romeo B. Fortes” after Mrs. Villafuerte warned the PES that she will file “administrative charges against the PES for his arbitrary, capricious and whimsical reversal of his own order of Aug. 27, 2013, declaring Ms. Robredo in default.”
Mrs. Villafuerte said the PES as investigating officer acted “with manifest partiality, patent injustice, bias and undue preference or special favor for respondent Robredo in reckless disregard of COMELEC Rules.”
In her counter-affidavit, Mrs. Robredo alleged that “she accepted donations from abroad, but only donations coming from Filipino citizens.”
Mrs. Robredo cited the affidavit of Filipino American lawyer Loida Nicolas Lewis, a dual citizen, who admitted in her affidavit that she indeed solicited and received funds from abroad specifically in the United States and that she turned over to Atty. Leni Robredo what she collected and received specifically.
Ms. Lewis said, “the money, which I turned over to Leni Robredo, was from my personal funds and funds collected from Filipinos living in the United States.”
Complainant Villafuerte said “campaign contributions from Loida Lewis, a dual citizen,” accepted by Robredo, “is covered by the prohibition.”
CONTRIBUTORS ARE NATURAL-BORN U.S. CITIZENS
Villafuerte said that because Mrs. Robredo collected funds “from Filipinos living in the United States, she has the burden of proving that funds she collected are strictly from Filipino citizens living the United States,” which is very hard to prove because the following donors to the Robredo campaign “are natural-born American citizens validated and confirmed by Ancestry.com.U.S.PublicRecordsIndex, namely:
1. Edward D. Seidel, born in U.S. on Oct. 27, 1935 and presently residing in Baltimore, Maryland;
2. Robert R. Heiberger, born in U.S. on May 12, 1954, and presently residing in Chicago, Illinois; And
3. Richard G. Sublett, born in the U.S. on Aug. 14, 1942, and presently residing in Mendozino, California.”
The others, whom Robredo “has not specifically denied under oath that the following namely, among others in the donor’s list, are naturalized American citizens and therefore foreign nationals:
Complainant Villafuerte said respondent Robredo “has not also specifically denied under oath and disputed that “dual citizens, who have both foreign nationality and non-foreign nationality are covered by the prohibition.”
He added that respondent’s principal solicitor and collector of campaign funds from abroad, Loida Lewis, “who admitted under oath that she solicited and accepted donations as campaign funds for respondent from persons, who, like Loida Lewis, are “dual citizens,” it is “undeniable legal fact that a Filipino as a dual citizen has a foreign nationality component and therefore covered by the prohibition. Respondent has been silent about this issue and in law: silence means consent.”
FOREIGN ENTITIES WHO DONATED TO ROBREDO
As to “foreign entities” alleged in the complaint to have contributed to Robredo’s campaign, they were identified as The Unlimited Agency, Inc., registered as a corporation on March 17, 1994 with registration No. 57729554 in the State of Illinois; The Bikol USA of the Midwest, a corporation in the State of Illinois registered on Feb. 11, 2011 with registration No. 67779959; and FUNDRAZR, an online website used to raise funds from Anonymous Donors abroad for Leni Robredo’s political campaign. FUNDRAZR is a product of a company, Connection Point Systems, a privately owned and funded Canadian company.
The second offense leveled against Robredo is for “receiving of prohibited contributions from foreign sources” without identifying the names of the donors in violation of Sec. 98 in relation to Sec. 262 of the Omnibus Election Code” filed on Sept. 22, 2013.
“Sec. 98. True name of contributor required.” says, “No person shall make any contribution in any name except his own nor shall any candidate … receive a contribution or enter or record the same in any name other than that of the person by whom it was actually made.”
Villafuerte said Robredo “received contributions not in the names of the persons and entities that actually contributed and that she did not enter or record in the Schedule of Contributions Received as submitted to the COMELEC the actual names of the persons by whom such contributors were actually made and that respondent also received contributions from anonymous sources or entered or recorded contributions with fictitious names.”
He said respondent Robredo received contributions, which either she did not report to hide the amounts contributed and/or the identity of the donors who are prohibited from giving political contributions.
Villafuerte also alleged that Robredo, while admitting in her counter-affidavit that there was solicitation and acceptance on donations from Filipino citizens living abroad, she did not report in her sworn statement or schedule of contributions received as submitted to the COMELEC, and other contributions that Loida Lewis turned over, in addition to the amount of P500,000.00 allegedly from Loida Lewis, “which itself is a violation.”
Because the two cases had been submitted for resolution to the COMELEC Regional Election Director Romeo B. Fortes on May 29, 2014 or about one year and 10 months ago, Villafuerte said Fortes did not indicate “whether or not he made a finding of probable case or merely washed his hands over said cases because of pressure or other unexplained causes.”
Sec. 257 of the OEC on “Decision in the Commission.” provides, “The Commission shall decide all election cases brought before it within ninety days from the date of their submission for decision. The decision of the Commission shall become final thirty days after receipt of judgment.”
While Sec. 265 of Omnibus Election Code says the Commission on Elections “has the exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under this Code, and to prosecute the same. The Commission may avail of the assistance of other prosecuting arms of the government…. in the event that the Commission fails to act on any complaint within four months from his filing, the complainant may file the complaint with the office of the fiscal or with the Ministry of Justice for proper investigation and prosecution, if warranted.”
Mr. Villafuerte said he is planning to exercise his option by filing a case against Mrs. Robredo before a fiscal’s office or the Ministry of Justice.
Sec. 264 of the OEC provides “Any person found guilty of any election offense under this code shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation. In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage.”