Philippines has one of Asia’s most prominent wealth gaps. Its poverty rates remain stagnant despite strong economic growth, and analysts believe that one of the reasons for the disparity is the debt that politicians owe their secret backers.
The nation’s campaign financing laws have no caps on how much people or companies can donate/give to candidates. There are also no limits on individual donations. Furthermore, the candidates do not have to reveal their backers until a month after polling day.
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Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has been established as the clear frontrunner for Monday’s elections by projecting himself as a frugal, anti-establishment politician who is strong enough to take on the elites.
“When I become president, by the grace of God, I serve the people, not you,” Duterte told reporters this week, referring to the elites.
However, in the final leg of the campaign period, he was hit with allegations that millions of dollars had poured into secret bank accounts.
While he initially denied the existence of such accounts, he eventually admitted that they did exist after journalists and concerned citizens began depositing money into them, and that 193.7 million pesos ($4.2 million) were deposited into them on his birthday two years ago – nearly 10 times his declared assets.
“That only means I have many rich friends,” he defended, refusing to reveal who exactly they were.
When he was asked at the last presidential debates to name his campaign donors, Duterte mockingly answered “Emilio Aguinaldo”, a leader of the Philippines’ 19-century struggle for independence and freedom from colonial power Spain.
The frontrunner’s rivals also feel no obligation to inform voters who their backers are, and definitely not how much they have been paid by them.
Senator Grace Poe, who has just recently entered the political scene three years ago, projects herself as the poster image of change and integrity.
On the flip side of the coin, she is widely rumored to be backed by taipans Eduardo Cojuangco and Ramon Ang. They are in charge of San Miguel Corporation, one of the nation’s biggest conglomerates.
Cojuangco was one of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ cronies until the 1986 “People Power” revolution sent him into US exile. He fled on the same plane as Marcos, but returned three years later and continued building his business empire, while simultaneously managing a political party that is backing Poe today.
When the AFP asked for confirmation on this rumor, Poe only answered in general terms.
“All candidates have support from both sides of the fence. If they say they don’t have any they’re lying.”
She said her backers and their donations would be revealed after the election, in accordance with the law.
Marcos’ son, who is running for the vice presidential elections, also dodged the question by referring to his obligations when asked by the AFP in an interview to disclose his backers.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., rejected the notion that he would be indebted to his secret donors.
“That would imply that you bought a politician. I don’t think I would allow that to happen to myself.”
The newly appointed dean of the Ateneo School of Government in Manila explained that in the Philippines, uncapped donations mean that the funding can be provided by the filthy rich in the hopes of receiving favors from an entire government.
This makes the economy vulnerable to the whims of their personal interests.
“Only a few can give such large amounts…. so you’re no longer accountable to people who voted you in. You become more accountable to the person who actually financed you,” Mendoza told the AFP.
This has led to monopolies and economic stagnation, since reforms become blocked and competition discouraged to enable the campaign benefactors to regain their investment on the new leader.
During the previous 2010 presidential election, only 308 Filipinos funded their candidates, turning them into virtual venture capitalists financing high-risk startups, according to a study by the Manila-based Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).