By Karol Ilagan and Elyssa Lopez
The successful presidential campaign of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in the May 2022 elections was funded by kin of known supporters of his father, the country’s late dictator and his namesake, and by today’s opulent names in the real estate, retail, construction and shipping industries, among others.
They include owners of firms barred by law from making political contributions.
A total of 67 donors contributed P624.7 million to help Marcos Jr. win the presidency, based on his own declarations to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
It is the biggest amount received and spent by a presidential candidate in the country’s election history, mainly due to the increase in the number of voters, which also raised the spending ceiling. (Explore the data: Who donated to Bongbong Marcos?)
Marcos’ campaign coffers dwarfed that of former vice president Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo as well as his other opponents who had to shell out their own money for their campaigns, according to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ)’s analysis of campaign-finance records. (Explore the data: Marcos gets biggest donation among 2022 candidates)
It shows that money continues to determine electoral victory in the Philippines, election experts told the PCIJ.
University of the Philippines political science professor Maria Ela Atienza said the recent polls showed that instead of qualifications, having more money, being a member of a political family or a dynasty, and popularity are the key ingredients to win a post.
“Talagang lamang ‘yung may pera. Lamang ang member ng mga political family or dynasties at lamang yung syempre yung kilala. So kung hindi ka member ng political dynasty at hindi ka member ng political family, kailangan sikat ka (The ones who have money have the advantage. The members of a political family or dynasties and those who are famous have the advantage. So if you’re not a member of a political dynasty and you’re not a member of a political family, you need to be famous),” Atienza said.
Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) executive director Rona Ann Caritos said Marcos also attracted more contributions as the consistent frontrunner in the presidential race, noting the tendency during elections to support the probable winner.
“Kita naman natin how big the lead was of the president now to that of VP Leni (in the surveys) (We can see how big the lead was of the president now to that of VP Leni [in the surveys]),” Caritos said.
Candidates were required to submit their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) one month after the elections. The declarations only cover the 90-day campaign period, however.
In the case of Marcos, Atienza said one also has to look beyond the SOCE and take into account the Marcoses’ “investments” in prior years. In theory, if this would be given monetary value, Marcos would have spent much more than what he declared in his SOCE, which only reflects a candidate’s activities during the official campaign period or between Feb. 8 and May 7, 2022.
“In the case of Bongbong, the campaign started ever since they (Marcos family) returned to the country. The desire of the family to return to power tapos hinayaan naman natin and slowly, little by little, they built their alliances both with the national and local politicians,” she said.
Alliance support thriving
Support from such alliances are reflected in Marcos’ campaign starting with his party, the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas footing 40% or P247.2 million of his campaign bill. (Comelec has yet to grant PCIJ’s request for a copy of Partido Federal’s SOCE along with that of the other parties of presidential candidates.)
Partido Federal was originally formed by supporters of former president Rodrigo Duterte and is now chaired by Marcos. The huge donation was made in kind through party treasurer Antonio Ernesto “Anton” Floirendo Lagdameo Jr.
Anton Lagdameo was later appointed by Marcos as Special Assistant to the President (SAP).
Marcos and Lagdameo go way back as their families are long-time allies.
Anton Lagdameo’s grandfather, Antonio Floirendo Sr., was a close business associate of Marcos Sr. Floirendo helped fund Marcos Sr.’s presidential campaigns in 1965 and 1969, according to the website of the Martial Law Memorial Museum (https://martiallawmuseum.ph).
During the course of the late dictator’s reign, Floirendo’s company, Davao-based Tagum Agricultural Development Company (Tadeco), rapidly grew as it developed one of the largest banana plantations in the country.
In 1987, after the EDSA People Power Revolt that led to the overthrow of Marcos ending his two-decade rule, the government entered into a settlement agreement with Floirendo, recovering P70 million in cash and assets composed of the Lindenmere Estate in Long Island and Olympic Towers in New York and a property in Honolulu, Hawaii, according to a Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) milestone report.
Antonio Floirendo Jr., Lagdameo’s uncle, was also a top donor of former President Rodrigo Duterte when he ran and won in 2016. He donated P75 million, according to the former president’s SOCE.
Apart from Lagdameo, another kin of a known associate filters in Marcos’ list of donors through James Gerard O. de Jesus who donated P10 million in cash.
De Jesus owns Jaric Marketing Inc., a local distributor of international food products like American snack brand Herr’s and French dairy brand Président. He co-founded the company in 2001 with wife Rica Lopez-Tantoco.
Rica is the daughter of Menchu Lopez-Tantoco, the third child of the late Bienvenido Tantoco Sr., founder of the Rustan Group of companies. The Tantocos are close allies of the Marcoses. Tantoco Sr. served as Philippine ambassador to the Vatican from 1983 to 1986.
By 1998, the PCGG had filed a case against both families for using dummy accounts to acquire more than P1 billion worth of assets during Marcos Sr.’s rule. In 2019, the case was junked by the Sandiganbayan.
More than a decade before this case, in 1987, the Philippine government had filed 39 civil cases for the “recovery, re-conveyance, reversion, accounting and damages against the Marcoses and their cronies,” according to a PCGG milestone report. The list included Bienvenido Tantoco.
Relatives of known supporters donating to Marcos is no surprise for Atienza who says that similar to business where the family interest is being promoted across generations, the same applies to politics, which can explain why political dynasties exist. Even in other countries like the U.S., big companies also contribute to the campaign of parties and candidates whom they think would also protect their interest, she added.
“They need to ally with one another because they need to protect each other’s interests. So parang ‘give and take’ and of course ang importante dito, mga cronies niya, nung tatay ni Marcos Jr., yung nag-contribute or the families or children of the cronies of the father,” she said.
Caritos says the public and civil society need to be more vigilant about campaign finance, highlighting the importance of governance after the elections.
“We need to be more observant. We need to look at the contracts they will get. Kasi (because) it’s patronage politics if ever they will get contracts from this government or if they get appointed to posts in the government. That’s a clear case of patronage or utang na loob (debt of gratitude) or giving back to the primary donor and contributors of that person’s campaign,” she said.
Venture capitalists or true believers?
Marcos’ top individual donor also secured a government post.
Melquiades A. Robles, who gave P30 million in cash to Marcos, is now chief of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the agency in charge of raising and providing funds for health programs and medical assistance.
According to news reports, Robles was a member of the board of the Intercontinental Broadcast Corporation, a media organization under the now-defunct Presidential Communications Operations Office. He is also reportedly a businessman and an owner of a rehabilitation facility.
Robles used to serve as Light Rail Transit Authority administrator during the administration of former president Gloria Arroyo. In 2017, the Sandiganbayan ordered the arrest of Robles and 10 other former LRTA officials for an alleged anomalous P400-million janitorial service contract. They were acquitted of the graft charges in 2019.
Another top donor, Philip G. Lo, who donated P25 million to Marcos, also served the Arroyo administration as a member of the board of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR).
Lo was one of the former PAGCOR executives ordered by the Commission on Audit in 2013 to return P26.7 million in public funds. In 2008, Lo and his co-accused, including then chair Efraim Genuino, signed a memorandum order for the release of the said funds to purchase movie tickets. In 2021, the cases against Lo and other executives, which had since been elevated to the Supreme Court, were ordered reversed and set aside.
Caritos, an election lawyer, said no law exists preventing winning candidates from appointing their contributors to government posts. However, she said this legal prohibition might be worth exploring so as not to encourage the kind of venture capitalism seen in Philippine elections or when donors contribute or “invest” not for democracy but because they want or expect contracts or appointments in government.
“Kung wala naman silang (campaign donors) makukuha di ba? Or hindi ka pwede ma-appoint, at least makikita mo kung sino talaga ‘yung gustong magbigay just because they believe in the candidate or party (If they [campaign donors] would not be able to get anything, right? Or they cannot be appointed, at least you will know who really are willing to give just because they believe in the candidate or party),” she said.
‘High-rollers’ in Marcos donor list
Marcos also declared receiving donations from other tycoons — opulent names in the real estate, retail, construction and shipping industries. Nineteen individuals who gave at least P10 million constituted 45% or almost half of his total campaign kitty.
PCIJ researched each of Marcos’ top donors to track relevant family, political and business ties. Our report lists relevant people whose identities we’ve been able to crosscheck using publicly available records. We have not been able to confirm the identity of the other donors because of limited information partly due to the Comelec redacting donor details for privacy.
Brothers Norman Vincent Lee Wee and Francis Augustus Lee Wee donated P20 million each to then presidential frontrunner Marcos Jr.
The Wee family owns the W Group Inc., which has interests in real estate, food and aquaculture. Norman Vincent is president while Francis Augustus is CEO of the company.
W Group rose to prominence for its production and processing of carrageenan under W Hydrocolloids Inc. The firm has since expanded to real estate, through its property arm, W Landmark Inc., which owns six office buildings, all located in Bonifacio Global City in Taguig.
Norman and Francis Augustus’ father, W Group chair and patriarch Lee Hiong Tan Wee, also served as ambassador of the Philippines to Indonesia during the Duterte administration.
Bryan C. Lim, vice president for business development of Suyen Corp., the company behind the clothing brand Bench, also donated P20 million in cash.
Aside from its retail business, Suyen Corp. has interests in food, furniture, and real estate. In 2019, the company signed a memorandum of agreement with Global Gateway Development Corp., a subsidiary of Dennis Uy’s Udenna Group, for the sublease of a part of the latter’s property in the Clark Freeport Zone in Pampanga.
Also among Marcos’ top donors are Mitchell Vy Chua and Manjinder Kumar who each donated P20 million.
Chase Y. Cokaliong, listed as vice president of Cebu-based Cokaliong Shipping Lines, donated P10 million in cash. Cokaliong Shipping operates passenger and cargo ferries in Visayas and Mindanao. Chase is the son of Chester Cokaliong, who founded the company in 1989.
In February 2022, Chester announced his support for the candidacy of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. because of his “closeness” to Sen. Imee Marcos, SunStar reported.
Ira Kim Flores, Dave S. Lim, Edmund L. Lim, Edward L. Lim, Kenrick G. Lim, Kevin Sean L. Lim, Joseph Rudolph C. Lo and Susan L. Tan also donated P10 million to Marcos, according to his SOCE.
Execs of barred firms donated
At least three of Marcos’ individual donors either own or have links with companies that have public works or supply contracts with the government, PCIJ’s analysis of procurement records from 2021 to 2022 show.
Among Marcos’ top donors is Rodulfo D. Hilot Jr. who donated P20 million. Hilot is listed as president of Rudhil Construction and Enterprises Inc., a Triple A construction firm based in Zamboanga del Sur. Hilot is also identified as the authorized managing officer of the company, according to the Philippine Contractors Accreditation Board (PCAB)’s list of licensed contractors as of 2020, the latest data available.
Rudhil won contracts worth P3.22 billion from January 2021 to May 15, 2022, according to procurement data maintained by the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (Philgeps). It implemented projects of various local government units in Cebu, Bohol, Zamboanga del Sur, Lanao del Norte, as well as the Bureau of Animal Industry and local offices of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).
A quarter or 43 of the 179 contracts Rudhil won from 2021 to May 2022 have contract periods ending from May 2022 to May 2023.
Jonathan M. Quirante is another donor who has links in the construction industry. He donated P1 million to Marcos. Quirante is listed as the authorized managing officer of Quirante Construction, according to PCAB’s list of licensed contractors.
Quirante Construction won over P2.54 billion worth of projects by various local government units in Cebu and the DPWH, among others. More than half or 48 of these 86 projects have contract periods ending from February 2022 to March 2023.
A top donor, Betsy Liao Manapsal, is identified as president of Iventures Philippines Corp., a government supplier. She donated P10 million to Marcos.
The company supplied “various furniture and fixtures for the university library” worth P1.5 million to the Southern Leyte University, in April 2021, and “collapsible tents” worth P481,000 to the Municipality of Consolacion in May 2021. This information appears in Philgeps data as well as the notice of award released by the respective offices. PCIJ however did not find a contract won and implemented by Iventures during the official campaign period, which may not prevent it from donating to candidates.
Liao Manapsal is the wife of Romulo “Jun” Manapsal, a former career officer in the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). He served as regional director in NBI’s Central Visayas and Northern Mindanao offices.
In March 2022, Manapsal was sworn in as secretary general of Partido Federal ng Pilipinas-Central Visayas. Cebu Daily News reported Liao-Manapsal also served as chairperson of the BBM-Region VII headquarters.
Section 95 of the Omnibus Election Code prevents Marcos from receiving donations from “natural and juridical persons who hold contracts or subcontracts to supply the government or any of its divisions, subdivisions or instrumentalities, with goods or services or to perform construction or other works.”
But because it is the individuals – not the companies or the listed government contractors and suppliers – who donated to Marcos, their contributions are allowed by law. PCIJ has reported on this loophole since 2013.
Caritos, an election lawyer, said this loophole is taken advantage of by donors, noting that it’s time for the Comelec to assert its authority and power over such activities.
“It’s impunity at its best because hindi siya na-account or hindi nagiging (it’s not held) accountable ‘yung mga ganitong acts,” she said.
For Atienza, there are obvious links because of the individual’s ties to the company even if the donation is treated as personal. The biggest agency that can reward a contract, she noted, is the government because of the infrastructure and supplies needed. What’s important now that people know the names of the donors is to be on the lookout for what would happen next.
“Let’s see what would happen if their company will participate in the government bidding process, in infrastructure, supplies, or other sectors… and whether they would benefit,” she said. –With research by Martha Teodoro and Erika Pearl Aguilar, PCIJ, August 2022