Leni Robredo DQ sought over foreign poll funds

MANILA, Philippines - Ma. Leonor “Leni” Robredo, widow of the late Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, is being accused of receiving contributions from foreign sources — possible grounds for her disqualification as Representative-elect of the 3rd District of Camarines Sur.

Robredo’s political rival, Nelly Villafuerte, wife of outgoing Camarines Sur Rep Luis Villafuerte, filed a complaint 10 days after the May 13 elections, after finding out that Robredo allegedly solicited and received campaign donations from “at least seven American nationals and three American entities.”

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.

Villafuerte, who lost to Robredo, the Liberal Party bet in the May elections, accused Robredo of soliciting donations from foreigners and entities in an open letter published on the Facebook page of Loida N. Lewis, an American citizen. (In the last elections, Robredo won by a landslide, garnering 102,694 votes against Nelly Villafuerte's 31,364.)

Rappler tried to get in touch with Robredo to get her side but was told she is not issuing any statement at the moment.

Robredo’s letter, according to Villafuerte, indicated the manner by which the foreign contributions could be sent. 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.”

In her complaint, Villafuerte cited as proof, the acknowledgment by Robredo of her receipt of donations from the foreign individuals and entities in her (Robredo’s) Facebook account. She supposedly listed the names of foreign individuals and entities who contributed to her campaign fund.

The Facebook page also carried a story about Lewis’ endorsement of Robredo for Congress.

Villafuerte said Lewis is a naturalized American citizen, having married Reginald Lewis in August 16, 1969. She was admitted to practice law in New York, something she could not do, Villafuerte said, if she is not a US citizen. Lewis is also the national chair of the US Pinoys for Good Governance.

Further proof

Villafuerte also pointed out that Lewis worked in the US Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from 1970-1990 and actively participated in the 2008 and 2012 campaign of US President Barack Obama. She was a financial contributor, Villafuerte said, and engaged in other partisan political activities, which she would not have been able to do were she not an American citizen.

Villafuerte further argued that Lewis could not cite RA 9225 or the law on dual citizenship in defense of Robredo.

It states that natural born citizens of the Philippines who (after the effectivity of the law – Aug 29, 2003) become citizens of a foreign country, shall retain their Philippine citizenship upon taking an oath of allegiance to the Republic of the Philippines. Lewis acquired her American citizenship, “long, long before the enactment of RA 9225,” Villafuerte said.

Other natural-born Americans or naturalized Americans who contributed to Robredo’s campaign include Dr Edward Seidel, a natural-born American married to a Filipina, Lorna, who has also acquired her US citizenship; lawyer Rodel Rodis, the first Filipino-American to win an elective post in the US, Robert Federigan; Robert Heiberger; Rainier Asprer; and Richard Sublett.

Foreign entities

In her complaint, Villafuerte also listed at least 3 foreign entities which contributed to Robredo’s campaign: The Unlimited Agency Inc, which was registered as corporation on March 17, 1994 with registration no. 57729554 in the state of Illinois, USA; The Bicol USA of the Midwest, which was registered as a copration in the State of Illinois, USA on Feb 11, 2011, with registration no. 67779959; and Fundrazr, an online website used to raise funds from anonymous donors abroad.

Fundrazr, is reportedly the flagship product of a company called Connection Point Systems, a privately-owned and funded Canadian company.

Given the facts cited, Villafuerte stressed in her complaint that “there is probable cause to indict defendant Ma. Leonor G. Robredo aka Leni Robredo for the election offense prescribed in Sec. 96 of the OEC in relation to Sec. 262, Sec. 264 and Sec. 68 (d) of the OEC.”

If found guilty, Robredo, besides possible disqualification from holding public office, could also face imprisonment. Section 262 of the OEC specifies that violation of Section 96 of the Code shall constitute an election offense and under Section 264 of the same Code, “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.”

Previously, Robredo filed a complaint against Nelly Villafuerte and her husband Luis, accusing them of vote-buying. Robredo sought the disqualification of the Villafuerte couple who ran separately in the May elections. Luis ran for governor of Camarines Sur and also lost. - Rappler.com