“Businesses donate to candidates not because they believe in him or her but because they see it as an investment for their business. It is part of the patronage politics.” – lawyer Rona Ann Caritos of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections
Related story: Election officers admit reforms needed
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — A study by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) revealed that a few people from the elite donated millions of pesos to the campaign of national candidates in the midterm elections.
The biggest donors for senatorial candidates include some bigwigs in the mining sector and public works contractors with pending government contracts.
Section 95 of the Omnibus Election Code prohibits contributions from persons operating a public utility or in possession of or exploiting any natural resources of the nation such as mining, and persons who hold contracts or sub-contracts to supply the government or any of its divisions, subdivisions or instrumentalities, with goods or services or to perform construction or other works.
Also prohibited to make donations are persons who have been granted franchises, incentives, exemptions, allocations or similar privileges or concessions by the government or any of its divisions, subdivisions or instrumentalities, including government-owned or controlled corporations.
“Businesses donate to candidates not because they believe in him or her but because they see it as an investment for their business. It is part of the patronage politics,” lawyer Rona Ann Caritos of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) told the media during the PCIJ press briefing, Oct. 4.
Based on the PCIJ study covering 33 senatorial candidates, millionaires contributed 87 percent of the total donations in the 2013 elections.
The PCIJ analyzed the Statements of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SOCEs) submitted by the candidates to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Ninety donors, which PCIJ referred to as the “High Rollers Club” or those who contributed P5 million ($115,843) and more, donated a total of P795.2 million ($18.42 million) to their favored candidates and political parties.
Meanwhile, there were 421 donors who were classified as belonging to the Millionaires’ Club. They accounted for 39.7 percent or P671.4 million ($15.56 million) of all the donations to the political parties and the winning candidates.
Among the High Rollers identified by PCIJ were former Senator Manuel Villar; Alice Eduardo, head and chief executive officer of the construction firm Sta. Elena Development Corporation; Jorge I. Araneta, chairperson of the Araneta Group of Companies; plastics tycoon William T. Gatchalian; Jose Go Ranola, of Legazpi Premium Development Corp; Judy Araneta Roxas, mother of Liberal Party stalwart Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II; business tycoon Iñigo Urquijo Zobel.
PCIJ said that donors associated with extractive sector entities contributed at least P70 million ($1.62 million) to both administration and opposition senatorial candidates. Officers or owners of public transport utilities such as airlines and bus companies gave P62.5 million ($1.45 million) in donations.
Among these donors are directors or corporate officers of Radtech Mining, Rednickel Mining, Karanglan Resources and Mining, Blackstone Energy Corporation, Wellex Mining, Aureus 74 Mining Corp.. Green Core Geothermal, Energy Development Corporation, International Global Mining Exchange, Aragon Power and Development, Kalingan Apayao Geothernal Resources, Inc., Mazzaraty Energy Corp and NickelAsia.
Lente’s Caritos deemed that the prohibition on corporations should extend to its directors. “Corporate powers are exercised by its officers, including making donations. They are not a separate entity. The spirit and intention of the law is to avoid ‘undue influence’ [to the government]. If corporate officers are allowed to give contributions, the prohibition on corporations would be rendered useless.”
PCIJ also found at least P75 million ($1.74 million) in donations made to both opposition and administration senatorial candidates made by contractors with pending government projects.
One of the biggest donors to the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) is Alice Galang Eduardo, president and board member of Sta. Elena Construction and Development Corporation. The said construction firm has several projects with the government.
The PCIJ also cited that Senator Paolo Benigno ‘Bam’ Aquino IV, first cousin of President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III, accepted donations from Vicente Tan Lao and Michael Allan Sicat who each gave P5 million to his campaign. Lao is the proprietor of Vicente T. Lao Construction, listed in the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) database of registered contractors for public works projects.
Vicente T. Lao Construction is the contractor for Phase 1 of the rehabilitation of the 14-kilometer Punta-Dansullan-Sergio Osmeña Road in Zamboanga del Norte at a cost of P69 million ($1.6 million). The PCIJ revealed that in late July this year, Vicente T. Lao Construction also submitted technical and financial proposals to the Department of Education for a P8-billion ($185.35 million) project to build school buildings under the government’s public-private partnership (PPP) program.
Family business, too
Malou Mangahas, PCIJ executive director, pointed out that some of the candidates were funded by relatives.
Eleven of the winning senatorial candidates received P465 million ($10.77 million) from their relatives. Some funded their own campaign. Some donations, Mangahas said, came from foundations formed months before the elections such as JV Para sa Bayan Movement Inc. and the Friends of Grace Poe Foundation Inc.
Who to serve?
“The bulk of donations came from an elite group of donors,” PCIJ multimedia director Ed Lingao said. “To whom do the candidates owe debts of gratitude?”
Lente’s Caritos said, “If one person funded 50 percent of the campaign expenses of a candidate, that person would be given preference over million other voters.”
Commissioner Christian Robert S. Lim of the poll body’s Campaign Finance Unit (CFU) said, “The high rollers can dictate what the national policies would be. We have a few people controlling how policies are being made.”
Mangahas encouraged journalists and the public in general to be ever vigilant. “The link between money and politics is so important in governance,” she said.