Big donors, serial donors in PHL elections

Few top traders, elite clans,
2 law firms bet on poll bets

THE POOL of donors of the national candidates in the Philippines remains an exclusive club of a few big donors who come from old elite families, big business entities, affluent law firms, and even some parties who have secured contracts and appointive positions with the government, a PCIJ review of public records on the last five elections reveals.

Even fewer still are the repeat donors and families of donors who may be called the frequent spenders or high rollers in national elections since 1998.

In contrast, the number of citizens donating small amounts to the candidates — either out of faith in the politics or policies that the latter espouse, or for benign or self-serving reasons — remains negligible.

Table 1. Repeat Donors, Serial Donors

Table 1. Repeat Donors, Serial Donors

For sure, donating to candidates in elections is a public good, and a public duty of all voters, according to new Commission on Elections Commissioner Luie Tito F. Guia. That is, he says, if elections are to remain inclusive and accountable.

There is nothing wrong per se about large sums of money flowing into the campaign kitty of candidates, continues Guia, who is known the world over as an authority on campaign-finance laws. But he says that the only thing that must be assured, as the laws provide, should be the transparency of who donated how much to which candidates.

Recently, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) issued resolutions designed to raise the bar of transparency on donations and expenses in elections, in apparent response to the largely opaque and often vague details of election spending reports that many candidates had filed in elections past.

Comelec’s move can only be described as a step in the right direction. As it is, only a few big donors with big bucks continue to bankroll elections in the Philippines, with their identities largely unknown to the general public.

Frequent donors all

A PCIJ review of selected Statements of Election Contributions and Expenditures (SECE), covering elections from 1998 to 2010, which were provided by the Comelec showed that:

  • Two individuals donated up to P100 million each, as of the May 2010 elections: Antonio ‘Tonyboy’ Cojuangco and Emmanuel ‘Noel’ Oñate.

    Cojuangco gave a P100-million pile to his second cousin, Benigno Simeon ‘Noynoy’ C. Aquino III in May 2010. Oñate, who acquired AirAsia Airlines and renamed it Asian Spirit (now Zest Airways) in 1995, under the Fidel V. Ramos administration, donated two tranches of P50 million to Ramos’s Lakas-CMD party, also in May 2010.

  • The list of top donors in the last five elections changed with the shift in the fortunes of the political parties and the candidates — big donors tended to go for the ruling coalition or parties, or candidates who are perceived to have the best chances of victory. The list and the amounts donated by the big donors had changed with the change in presidents or ruling political parties.
  • In the last five elections, big businessmen, political allies, former government officials, and the law firms partial to or supportive of the administration parties and the presidents in power invariably dominated the list of donors.
  • Since 1998, too, partners of a famous law firm and relatives of President Aquino were consistently campaign donors. Two families related to the President also donated at least P2 million each during three different election seasons.
  • Two law firms in particular dominated the list: CVCLAW or the erstwhile Carpio Villaraza Cruz Law or ‘The Firm,’ and the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law Offices or ACCRALAW.
  • A handful of donors with big campaign contributions would later figure as frequent companions in the trade missions abroad of the presidents they supported, or appointees to senior government positions, or recipients of some government contracts.
  • Only four fairly big corporate entities have come out as big donors to the candidates since 2004: SM Shoemart, Unilab, and Ortigas Co. Ltd., which gave P10 million, P10 million, and P4 million, respectively, to Estrada in May 2010, and the Rufino Group of Companies, which gave P5 million to Lakas-CMD in 2004.

    Three small companies — Grand C Graphics, 3 Kings Printing, and Aqualee Marine Export Corp. — each gave P5 million to the Lakas-CMD party in the 2004 elections.

Corporates, lawyers

Aside from Cojuangco and Oñate, other big businessmen had donated big amounts to candidates since 1998, including port terminals and media owner Enrique T. Razon (P15 million in May 2010 and P1 million in May 1998 to Joseph Estrada and P500,000 to Buhay Party List in May 2004), and telecommunications big man Manuel V. Pangilinan and real-estate and retail businessman Andrew Tan, who gave P10 million and P12 million, respectively, to Estrada’s campaign in May 2010.

Groups of businessmen who had struck controversy in the news because of their supposed closeness to former presidents were also among the top donors in the last five elections.

They include the supposed business associates of deposed President Joseph Estrada, namely, William Gatchalian, Jack Ng, Henry Tan, and Manuel B. Zamora, brother of San Juan Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora, who had also worked as Estrada’s executive secretary.

The Lakas-CMD party, which has former President Ramos as chairman emeritus, has drawn significant campaign donations from their own circle of business allies, including Raymond M. Moreno, Ramon Jacinto, Antonio Vilar, and the Rufino Group of Companies.

From CVCLAW, founding partner Pancho Villaraza gave P30 million, and senior partner Raoul Angangco, P8 million, to the Lakas-CMD party’s campaign to elect Gloria Macapagal Arroyo president in 2004. In 2001, Arroyo had appointed CVCLAW senior founding partner, Antonio T. Carpio, as a Supreme Court justice, and senior partner Simeon V. Marcelo as Solicitor General. Marcelo would become Ombudsman in 2002.

ACCRALAW founding partners Avelino V. Cruz and Teodoro D. Regala, and senior partner Victor P. Lazatin were ‘four-peat’ donors or benefactors of various candidates in the last four elections.

The three contributed to Edgardo ‘Ed’ Angara’s 2001 and 2007 senatorial campaigns; Franklin ‘Frank’ Drilon’s 2010 senatorial bid; and Richard ‘Dick’ Gordon’s bids for a Senate seat in 2004 and for the presidency in 2010. Lazatin in addition donated to Drilon’s 2001 senatorial campaign and to Juan Edgardo ‘Sonny’ Angara’s 2004 and 2007 Congressional runs.

Sonny Angara is Ed Angara’s son. Ed Angara is among the founding partners of ACCRALAW; the firm says he is still connected with it. Drilon and Gordon had worked with the law firm.

Five other ACCRALAW lawyers also donated to some of the same candidates in the last three elections.

Similarly big amounts had been raised by President Aquino and his Liberal Party from his other top donors in the May 2010 elections: Chiong Bu Hong, Martin Ignacio Lorenzo (brother of Luis Lorenzo, agriculture secretary of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo), and Fulgencio Factoran Jr., former environment secretary under the late President Corazon C. Aquino.

Aquino’s other big donors included Cesar Purisima and Gerardo Esquivel, who gave P10 million each in his 2010 bid for the presidency. Aquino later appointed Purisima Finance secretary, and Esquivel, administrator of the Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS).

Candidates’ fear

Some candidates themselves have admitted that running an election campaign is very expensive, and can cost someone vying for a national post tens of millions of pesos. It’s a financial burden most candidates cannot take on and they usually have to rely on donors to get their campaigns up and running until election day.

Ideally, donors give money to election campaigns because they believe in the candidate or party and hope that their ‘bet’ would do the country good once in office. But even candidates say they are wary of donors who may want something in return afterward — a fear that has apparently turned into reality far too often.

PCIJ thus thought it would be interesting to know just who have been the serial and serious bankrollers of election campaigns in recent history. And so it set out to see if there were donors who repeatedly put money into campaign coffers election after election, as well as if there were families or clans helping fill up campaign kitties in two or more elections.

To learn more about the identities of donors in every election period, PCIJ requested from Comelec the SECE of every candidate in every election period from 1998 onward. Comelec, however, was able to provide only the SECEs of presidential candidates from 1998-2010, political parties in 2010, and winning national candidates and party-list from 1998-2010.

A SECE contains all the important information of the donors, from their full names, addresses, to the date of donations, and so on. PCIJ encoded all the SECE into Excel files to filter out the donors who keep on donating in every election period. To be considered as a repeating donor, PCIJ determined that an individual must have donated in at least three different election periods regardless of the amount of his or her donation.

By the millions

PCIJ also tried filtering out the donors who are related by blood or marriage to another donor.

In establishing the list of donor families, PCIJ determined that two or more donors must be related by blood or marriage to pass as a family of donors. Also, the family of donors must have donated at least P1 million in one election period. If the family of donors donated at least P1 million in one election period but donated below P1 million in another election period, only the election period where they donated at least P1 million in total was included in the list.

Among the serial or repeat donors that emerged using these parameters, four individuals were revealed to have consistently made campaign contributions in four national elections: Avelino V. Cruz, Victor P. Lazatin, Antonio A. Lopa, and Teodoro D. Regala. Their donations for their particular candidate ranged from P100,000 to as high as P5 million each.

Of these four-time donors, only Antonio A. Lopa, who is chairman and/or top executive of securities, realty, and automotive companies, is not from ACCRALAW. His family has close business ties with the Cojuangcos, a business-political clan that counts President Aquino and his late mother, former President Corazon ‘Cory’ C. Aquino, among its members. Cory Aquino’s late sister, Teresita, was also married to the late Ricardo Lopa, brother of Antonio Lopa.

Antonio Lopa contributed to the 2001 senatorial campaign of former First Lady Luisa ‘Loi’ Ejercito, to Jose ‘Jinggoy’ Estrada’s 2004 senatorial bid and to that of Loren Legarda in 2007, and finally to Noynoy Aquino’s presidential campaign in 2010.

The three remaining ‘four-peat’ donors, meanwhile, are all senior partners in ACCRALAW, one of the most prestigious law firms in the country.

ACCRALAW was formed during the Marcos years. According to its website, the firm’s clientele “represents the full spectrum of business and industry — including many of the Philippines’ top 1000 corporations, major companies, (and) conglomerates based abroad and even professional organizations and individuals.”

Past clients have included the electronics giant Philips, Del Monte, Manila Bulletin, and the Philippine Star. ACCRALAW declined to name some of its current clients when asked directly by PCIJ, but a recent GMA News report mentioned the firm as being the “representative” of voting machine supplier Smartmatic, while Business Mirror identified lawyers from ACCRALAW as counsels of San Pedro, Laguna Mayor Calixto R. Cataquiz.

There were other election campaign donors who were from ACCRALAW, aside from Cruz, Lazatin, and Regala. They include Emerico O. De Guzman, Emiterio C. Manibog Jr., Luis A. Vera Cruz Jr., Leland R. Villadolid Jr., and Rogelio A. Vinluan, all of whom were campaign donors in three elections. All the donors from ACCRALAW, however, limited their choice of candidates to support with financial contributions to Ed and Sonny Angara, Drilon, and Gordon.

Relatives & colleagues

Meanwhile, at least 32 individuals related by blood or social ties to the candidates may be considered top donors in three national elections. Among these were relatives of candidates, such as Maria Elena Aquino Cruz and Victoria Aquino Dee (sisters of Noynoy Aquino), Rafael C. Lopa (Aquino’s first cousin, the executive director of the Ninoy Aquino Foundation and former president of Pulse Asia), and Katrina Ponce Enrile (daughter of Juan Ponce Enrile).

Other three-time donors include Antonio J. Lim and the late Danilo R. Bautista, both of whom held high posts within the JAKA Group of companies owned by the Ponce Enriles; Emerito C. Mariano Jr., Neil Benedict A. Montejo, and Florencio Gabriel G. Noel, all of whom were representatives of the party-list that they supported; Alice C. Gapal, Romeo de Jesus, and Joselito V. Ustarez, who were also associated with the party-list group that each of them supported; and Mary Joan A. Guan, executive director of the Centre for Women’s Resources, which is associated with Gabriela Women’s Party List.

Those who had the most number of repeat donors among the individual candidates were Angara, Aquino, Drilon, Enrile, Estrada, and Gordon, while Gabriela Women’s Party-List, An Waray, and Anakpawis were the party-list groups that had the highest number of serial donors.

PCIJ next turned its attention to ‘donor families.’ By comparing the information available in the SECEs and on the Internet, PCIJ found 19 donor families who each made a total contribution of at least P1 million in a single election season.

Among these 19 families, four had total campaign contributions of at least P2 million each in three different election seasons: Aquino, Lopa, Ponce Enrile, and Zamora.

Kris beats ‘em all

Among the Aquinos, the biggest donor was Kris Aquino, who contributed P20 million to older brother Noynoy Aquino’s senatorial bid in 2007, and then P15 million to his presidential campaign in 2010. She also made a P10-million donation to the Akbayan Citizens Action Party in the 2010 elections.

Among the Lopas, Antonio A. Lopa was the biggest donor in terms of total contributions to different candidates. Interestingly enough, he gave more to the senatorial campaign kitties of Jinggoy Estrada (P2 million in 2004) and Loren Legarda (P5 million in 2007) than to that of 2010 presidential campaign of Noynoy Aquino, nephew-in-law of his late brother Ricardo.

Katrina Ponce Enrile, meantime, was easily the bigger donor in her family, besting older brother Juan Jr. or Jack. Katrina is the president and CEO of the family’s JAKA Group of Companies while Jack is currently a member of the House of Representatives. Both Katrina and Jack contributed to the senatorial campaign of their father, Juan Ponce Enrile.

In the Zamora family, Salvador is the biggest donor followed by brother Manuel, and finally another brother Ronaldo, Both Salvador and Manuel are mining magnates; Manuel is the chairman and founder of the largest nickel mining company in the Philippines, Nickel Asia, while Salvador is the chairman of Oriental Vision Mining Philippines Corp. and former president of the Hinatuan Mining Corp., Cagdianao Mining Corp., and Taganito Mining Corp. Ronaldo is a former representative of San Juan.

Manuel donated P2 million to the 2001 senatorial campaign of Loi Ejercito while Salvador contributed P5 million to Noynoy Aquino’s 2010 presidential bid. All three Zamora brothers donated to Panfilo Lacson’s senatorial campaign in 2007.

There were, however, seven families of donors who contributed a total of at least P10 million in a single election season: the Aquinos, Aranetas, Bayots, Cojuangcos, Evangelistas, Lims, and Ponce Enriles.

The Cojuangco family outshone the other donor clans as their total contribution during the 2010 elections amounted to P115 million. But this was largely because Antonio ‘Tonyboy’ Cojuangco, who has business interests in information technology, realty, and property development firms donated P100 million to the presidential campaign of his second cousin Noynoy Aquino. That contribution also made him Aquino’s top campaign donor.

The Aranetas

In 2004, seven members of the Araneta clan, which is into commercial real estate, among other things, donated P46 million altogether. The bulk of the monies went to the senatorial campaign of Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II, with P20 million coming from his mother, Judy Araneta Roxas. Benito Araneta, meanwhile, donated P7 million to the Lakas CMD/Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan during the 2004 elections.

In May 2010, Roxas, defeated running mate of President Aquino and now secretary of the Interior and Local Government, donated almost P39 million to the Liberal Party, where he is also the incumbent president.

Brothers Francisco and Vicente Madrigal Bayot donated P10 million each to the 2004 presidential bid of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The Madrigal-Bayot family is into shipping, mining, cement, banking, and real estate construction.

During the 2010 election campaign, Antonio Evangelista and his son Rolando made a total contribution of P35 million. Antonio’s P15-million donation, however, went to the presidential campaign of his former high school classmate, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, while Rolando gave P20 million to the Nacionalista Party. The Evangelistas head the New Kanlaon Construction Enterprises Co. In 2000, PCIJ reported that Antonio had managed to land the P2.8-billion Erap City housing project in Montalban, Rizal.

David Lim and his mother Elena gave P10 million each to support the presidential bid of Noynoy Aquino in 2010. The Lims are major stockholders in the Solid Group of Companies, whose products include the popular My/Phone cellular phone brand.

Among the 19 donor clans, though, the Aquinos stand out as having ties with three of the other families: the Cojuangcos, Lichaucos, and Lopas. While Noynoy Aquino is related to the Cojuangcos and Lopas through his mother Cory, he is related to the Lichaucos via his father Benigno Sr., whose sister Maria Aurora married Ernesto Enrique Lichauco.

Not surprisingly, most of the donations of the Aquinos, Cojuangcos, Lichaucos, and Lopas, went to fund the 2010 presidential campaign of Noynoy Aquino, making him the candidate with the most number of donors coming from a family of campaign contributors during that election. The minimum contribution of each of these donors to Aquino’s campaign in 2010 was P500,000.

The Aquinos, Lichaucos, and Lopas also donated to the Akbayan Citizens Action Party during the 2010 polls. Looking through the list of families of donors who donated at least P 1,000,000 in one election season, PCIJ found that among the party-list groups, only Akbayan had donors who came from the same family. The minimum contribution of each of these donors to Akbayan was P250,000.

Venture capitalists?

In May 2010, PCIJ’s review of the election spending reports of seven presidential candidates and three political parties showed that election campaigns in the Philippines are funded in the manner and mold of financing for risky business start-ups.

Candidates fattened their campaign kitty using personal funds, and money from family members and friends rather than a wide network of supporters of the political party, organization, or movement.

In business, PCIJ had noted then, these private-equity sources of funding are ideal for ventures with low success rates but high pay-offs that are usually shunned by banks and the capital markets.

And then there are also those who are the political equivalent of the venture capitalist: the wealthy individual who is unrelated to the candidate but who makes a big bet on his or her candidacy either because of genuine conviction or shrewd calculation.

The election spending reports on file with Comelec and PCIJ do not show the names of other donors with contributions in the millions of pesos, who should have been on the list, according to fund-raisers PCIJ interviewed.

Many donors also hedge, the fund-raisers told PCIJ. Some play it safe by donating to several candidates vying for the same position. Few can afford not to give any donations at all.

A Filipino-Chinese business leader remarked: “If you see your business competitor becoming unduly close to the likely winner, you tend to worry and begin to look for ways to get to know the candidate, too.”

Few small donors

Philippine elections and democracy are supposedly built in the image and likeness of the country’s former colonial master, the United States. But based on the last two U.S. presidential elections, small, individual voters there are fast eclipsing the amount of money that the candidates’ political action committees (PACs) and big business pals are pouring into election campaigns.

In 2008, Barack Obama, a “tremendous fund-raising success” story, in his first run for the White House raised $750 million in campaign donations, including up to 26 percent from individual voters who pitched in $200 each or less. This is according to the report of the independent Campaign Finance Institute, which reviewed records of the U.S. Federal Election Commission.

About three million individuals donated to the Obama campaign in 2008, a report in said.

In his reelection bid in 2012, Obama raised total donations of $1.07 billion and spent only $985.7 million. His under $200-donors, according to The New York Times, accounted for 57 percent or $483.58 million of his campaign kitty, while his PAC and Super-PAC donors, only 40 percent.

Obama himself broke news about how he surpassed himself, in terms of his fund-raising prowess among small, individual donors, in a post he made on his Twitter account, @BarackObama, on Oct. 1, 2012: “Last night, this campaign reached 10,000,000 donations in 2012 — a huge milestone and a historic record for grassroots politics.”

In the May 2010 elections, the Philippines had an official total of 50.7 million registered voters, but only 308 persons donated to the seven candidates for president and the top three political parties.

Of the 308 donors, only 48 gave more than P10 million each, and altogether accounted for almost 80 percent of total funds of P1.58 billion raised for the campaign, including the candidates’ own money.— With reporting and research by Malou Mangahas, Karol Ilagan, and Fernando Cabigao Jr., PCIJ, May 2013