By Jauhn Etienne Villaruel | ABS-CBN News
MANILA (UPDATED) — Foreigners cannot donate to the campaign of any Filipino candidate, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) official on Wednesday said, following the launch of a volunteer-run website that seeks to fund Vice President Leni Robredo's presidential run.
"Foreigners cannot contribute to any Filipino candidate," Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon said in a tweet.
Guanzon was reacting to an ABS-CBN News story on the launch of Team Leni Robredo's (TLR) crowdfunding page, where supporters may conveniently donate P50 up to P20,000 to Robredo's campaign war chest.
TLR's crowdfunding page relies on the donor's good faith about his or her Filipino citizenship.
Under the Omnibus Election Code (OEC), it is "unlawful for any person to solicit or receive any contribution" from foreigners and foreign corporations.
"Aside from being an election offense, the solicitation or receipt of contributions from any of the abovementioned persons is also a ground for disqualification under Section 68 (d) of the OEC," Comelec said in a previous advisory.
In a phone interview with ABS-CBN News, Comelec's Campaign Finance Office (CFO) officer-in-charge Efraim Bag-id also flagged potential flaws in the crowdfunding drive, particularly on identifying the donors.
"Ang requirement ng batas kasi sa section 98 (OEC) kailangan yung name of the person or contributor lalabas sa list of contributors, so kung ipa-pass the hat mo, crowdfunding, hindi malalaman magkano at sino nagbigay, lumalabas pinasa na lang… Violation yun," said Bag-id.
Bag-id was citing a provision of the OEC that states:
"No person shall make any contribution in any name except his own nor shall any candidate or treasurer of a political party receive a contribution or enter or record the same in any name other than that of the person by whom it was actually made."
The TLR website requires donors to cite their name and provide their e-mail address.
Bag-id also addressed the argument that one is only considered a "candidate" during the campaign period, therefore his or her election expenses should only be monitored thereafter.
"Wala namang period kung kailan mo tinanggap… Kung ang purpose mo para sa campaign mo syempre puwede kang tumanggap ngayon pero kailangan mo nang i-declare kasi para sa eleksyon mo yan eh," he said.
"It must be included in their submission of their SOCE (Statement of Contributions and Expenditures) if and when naging candidate na sila," Bag-id added.
Under the controversial 2009 decision of the Supreme Court now commonly known as the Penera doctrine, a person who files his candidacy is only considered a "candidate" at the start of the campaign period.
Comelec set the campaign period for candidates for president, vice president, senators, and party-lists from February 8 to May 7, 2022.
Bag-id clarified that the CFO is not saying crowdfunding is prohibited. But due to its novelty, the office will need to further study the method for possible regulation.
"Kung kailangan namin maglabas ng policy for that, kung may makikita kaming possible na policy para ma-regulate namin, maglalabas kami," Bag-id said.
In an interview with ABS-CBN News, Robredo's spokesperson Barry Gutierrez said the crowdfunding drive was a "volunteer initiative."
"The crowdfunding page is a volunteer initiative led by TLR," Gutierrez said in a text message.
Robredo and Gutierrez posted the website in their respective social media pages to thank the volunteers but the vice president is not directly involved in the crowdfunding, the spokesman said.
Election lawyer Emil Marañon in a previous interview said crowdfunding candidates is a way of levelling the playing field in elections, which is traditionally bankrolled by political parties, tycoons, and other wealthy contributors.
As of Thursday night, the TLR crowdfunding page has been modified and now contains a disclaimer saying donations will not be directly remitted to either the OVP or Robredo.
Supporters can now only donate via local fintech providers GCash and PayMaya.