(Updated 6:35 p.m.) Three sisters of President Benigno Aquino III were among the biggest donors of party-list group Akbayan in the 2010 elections, but Malacañang said there was nothing wrong with it.
“Should it be taken against the group, if somebody prominent supports them? Parang unfair naman yata ‘yun,” presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said Thursday. The generosity of the Aquino family to Akbayan is yet another sign that Akbayan is a party strongly allied with the administration and may undermine claims that it represents specific marginalized sectors, as Comelec demands of parties before they qualify to run as party-list groups.
Lacierda noted that Akbayan — currently a subject of a disqualification case at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) — is a “group that supports the president’s advocacies.”
According to the published statement of election contributions and expenses filed by Akbayan, P14 million of its P112.183 million campaign fund in 2010 came from the Aquino sisters.
TV personality Kris Aquino gave the biggest chunk at P10 million, while Maria Elena "Ballsy" Aquino Cruz and Victoria “Viel” Aquino-Dee donated P2 million apiece. Akbayan's bitter opponent, the Leftist youth group Anakbayan, described the contribution of the Aquino sisters as a “scandalously huge amount for a party-list campaign fund.” “If they could collect an amount this huge when they were still out of power, how much more now that they are in government? There is clearly an unfair advantage over other groups who are truly marginalized and underrepresented, not to mention that their nominees are appointed officials,” Anakbayan spokesperson Vencer Crisostomo said in an e-mailed statement. Sought for comment, Akbayan member and senatorial candidate Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel said the contributions were channeled into television ads that supported Aquino's platform.
"Halos lahat ng contributions nilang iyon sa pondo ay para sa joint Noynoy-Akbayan TV ads tungkol sa plataporma ni PNoy na sinusuportahan ng Akbayan. Di ito makaapekto sa kaso," Hontiveros-Baraquel told GMA News Online in a text message. Hontiveros-Baraquel was a losing guest senatorial candidate of Aquino's Liberal Party during the 2010 polls. She is again a guest senatorial candidate for next year's midterm polls.
Akbayan, meanwhile, lamented that the contributions it received were being used against them. “That we received such contributions, we believe, does not take away the character of Akbayan as a party-list that represents the interests of the marginalized, but in fact indicates the confidence and support our advocacies enjoy from the broader public,” Akbayan said in a statement. Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, for his part, said having donations from the president’s sisters does not mean Akbayan is being funded by the government.
Akbayan’s legitimacy as a party-list is being questioned by several leftist organizations, notably Anakbayan, which has alleged that since Akbayan has several members in top government executive positions, it no longer represents a marginalized sector.
Lacierda said as private citizens, the Aquino sisters can contribute all they want to whomever they support.
“The sisters are, and continue up to this day as, private citizens. They have a right to contribute to a group they feel which would also support the president’s program of anti-corruption and poverty alleviation,” he said.
“So it should not come as a surprise being private citizens that they choose to support groups which are supportive of the advocacies of the President," Lacierda added.
Lacierda also said that critics should not begrudge organizations for being supported by prominent individuals. “It’s not a question of who your supporters are, it's what you stand for,” he said. — Patricia Denise Chiu and Marc Ryan Cayabyab/KBK/RSJ/HS, GMA News