The Commission on Elections (Comelec) should look into the possible breach of elections law in what looked like fund-raising sorties of Vice President Leni Robredo in the United States and Canada last week.
Leni was in the American continent officially to attend “a series of engagements, including a speech before the CSIS-Pertamina-Banyan Tree Leadership Forum and the US-Philippines Strategic Initiative and to meet with Filipino associations and potential partners for her office’s flagship anti-poverty program, Angat Buhay.”
The tour, however, was well-documented in social media pages of her Filipino-American supporters where Leni is shown hobnobbing with members of Pinoy regional associations which were her usual contributors.
She delivered speeches before the All-Ateneo Alumni Convention in San Diego, California and the 28th anniversary celebration of the Philippine Bicol Association of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada where she said Filipinos in the United States and Canada should help “their countrymen in need.”
Supposedly, Leni was referring to victims of the recent calamities but the intention can be double-edged as her Liberal Party (LP) is in great need of campaign funds.
“In these very challenging times, what we need are resilient, courageous and creative people who think, act and lead with heart — bigger than any monster, stronger than any adversity,” she said.
Robredo also often cited in the speeches the supposed worsening of economic “difficulties” among Filipinos due to inflation.
“I want to invite all of you to fight with us, to make sure that no one is left behind in our fight against poverty and our path to progress,” she said.
Complaints of soliciting funds from abroad are not even new for Leni who appears to be LP’s designated campaign funds solicitor in the US and Canada.
Raised before the Comelec after the 2013 polls was a complaint of the wife of former Camarines Rep. Luis Villafuerte, Nelly, indicating that Robredo had solicited and received campaign donations from at least seven Americans, among them Filipino-American billionaire Loida Nicolas Lewis and three American entities.
The complaint listed her American contributors as Edward Seidel, a natural-born American married to a Filipina; lawyer Rodel Rodis, the first Filipino-American to win an elective post in the United States; Robert Federigan; Robert Heiberger; Rainier Asprer and Richard Sublett.
Lewis worked as a general attorney in the US government and actively participated in the 2008 and 2012 campaign of former US President Barack Obama by being a financial contributor.
At least three foreign entities were also tagged as having contributed to Leni which are The Unlimited Agency Inc. in the state of Illinois, USA; The Bicol USA of the Midwest and Fundrazr, a website used to raise funds from anonymous donors abroad.
Section 96 of the Omnibus Election Code states: “It shall be unlawful for any person, including a political party or public or private entity to solicit or receive, directly or indirectly, any aid or contribution of whatever form or nature from any foreign national, government or entity for the purposes of influencing the results of the election.”
Fundrazr was created by Connection Point Systems, a privately owned and funded Canadian company.
Most of the LP connections to US contributors were initiated and facilitated by Lewis.
Robredo in her reply to the Comelec complaint of Villafuerte merely disowned Lewis as her agent in soliciting campaign funds but admitted the Filipino-American gave her “personal contributions.”
On 23 May 2013 or 10 days after the national elections then when Leni ran for and won a House seat in Naga City, Nelly Villafuerte found out that Robredo initiated the solicitation of donations from foreign nationals and entities by issuing an open letter on 1 February 2013 at the behest of Lewis, an American citizen.
In the open letter, Robredo stated the manner by which the foreign solicitations could be made effective.
A part of her letter read: “To support Atty. Leni Robredo’s campaign, please make/send checks to, Mail check payable to “Loida Lewis ITF Leni Robredo” PO Box 1080, Gracie Station, NY NY 10028. For more information, visit: https://www.facebook.com/attyLeniRobredo.”
Nelly said Robredo acknowledged the receipt of the foreign donations on her website, http://lenirobredo.ph/0630/, listing the names of the foreign individuals and entities who contributed to her campaign fund.
The website also featured an article regarding Lewis’ announcement of support for Robredo’s campaign.
Robredo’s website was deactivated after the filing of the Comelec cases.
The Comelec should heed President Rodrigo Duterte’s vow to make the mid-term elections next year clean by probing Leni and the LP for trampling on the election laws.