LIBERAL Party vice presidential candidate Leni Robredo illegally solicited and accepted campaign funds from 10 foreign contributors in the 2013 congressional race, an offense that should have disqualified her from running for vice president, her losing rival for the Camarines Sur seat in the House of Representatives said Tuesday.
Two cases were filed against Robredo in 2013 by former Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Villafuerte and his wife Nelly, who ran but lost to Robredo that same year.
The case against Robredo, who has campaigned on a platform of transparency in government, remains pending before the Commission on Elections, the Villafuertes said.
Copies of the complaints and the evidence submitted to the Comelec showed Robredo had solicited and received campaign donations from at least seven American nationals, among them Loida Nicolas Lewis, and three American entitites.
Nelly Villafuerte lifted from Robredo’s social media account the list of her contributors who were natural-born Americans or naturalized Americans, such as 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 United States; Robert Federigan; Robert Heiberger; Rainier Asprer; and Richard Sublett.
Villafuerte also found that Robredo named at least three foreign entities which contributed to her campaign: The Unlimited Agency, Inc., which was registered as a 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 corporation in the State of Illinois, USA on Feb. 11, 2011, with registration no. 67779959; and Fundrazr, a 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, Villafuerte said.
Nelly Villafuerte presented as proof the receipt of the donations from the foreign individuals and entities that was acknowledged by Robredo in her Facebook account.
A second complaint was filed by Luis Villafuerte, who accused Robredo of not reporting to the Comelec the names of those who actually contributed to her campaign fund.
Robredo executed a counter-affidavit disowning Lewis as her agent to solicit campaign funds but admitted Lewis turned over to her Lewis’ personal contributions and that no other contributions came from other foreign donors.
Robredo also denied knowledge of the existence of her own website and that it was only created under her name.
The Villafuertes said Lewis was born a Filipino but was an American citizen when she made her donation to Robredo, who thus violated the Omnibus Election Code.
Robredo claimed Lewis used her name in soliciting funds on her behalf but that the American was not authorized to do so even after the administration candidate acknowledged receipt of the campaign funds.
Nelly said Robredo, a very close ally of President Benigno Aquino III, has violated Section 96 of the Omnibus Election Code, which prohibits solicitation or receiving funds from foreign donors.
On May 23, 2013 or 10 days after the elections, Nelly said her camp found out that Robredo initiated the solicitation of donations from foreign nationals and entities by issuing an open letter on Feb. 1, 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 cases were filed against her.
According to the Villafuertes, Lewis is a naturalized American citizen, having married Reginald Lewis on Aug. 16, 1969.
She also reportedly passed the New York bar exam and was admitted to practice law in New York, something she could not do if she were not a citizen of the United States, the complainants said.
“Lewis worked as a general attorney in the US government, specifically in the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from 1970–1990 and actively participated in the 2008 and 2012 campaign of US President Barak Obama by being a financial contributor, among other partisan political activities she engaged in, all things which she could only do if she is an American citizen,” said Nelly Villafuerte, in her complaint.
She said if Lewis claims to be a Filipino citizen, which would enable her to contribute to Robredo’s campaign, then she would have been considered a foreign national in the United States, which would have barred her from contributing to Obama’s campaign.
Villafuerte argued that Lewis could not take refuge under dual citizenship law because she had acquired her American citizenship long before the law was enacted.
In her defense, Robredo, while admitting she received contributions from Lewis, said she also received funds collected from Filipinos living in the United States or overseas Filipinos.
Luis Villafuerte filed the second case against Robredo for untruthful reporting of campaign contributions.
The former congressman said almost three years after the complaint was lodged against Robredo, the Comelec has yet to file any criminal information before any court.
According to the law, the function of the Comelec is only to determine probable cause, which Nelly Villafuerte said, exists.
“The financial contribution to the political campaign of the defendant from foreign sources mentioned above is indictable as an election offense,” Villafuerte stated in her complaint.
She lamented that had the Comelec filed the case in court and had the court found Robredo guilty, she would have been disqualified from holding public office and could have also served jail time.
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