President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has appointed at least six of his election donors to government posts, PCIJ research shows. They’re in Malacañang, the Department of Agriculture, the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), National Housing Administration (NHA), and the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO).
His latest appointee, Agriculture Secretary Francisco Tiu Laurel Jr., donated P30 million in cash to his political party Partido Federal ng Pilipinas. The party accounted for 40% of the President’s total campaign fund.
Laurel is the president of Frabelle Fishing Corporation, which his father founded in 1966. The company is known for its deep-sea fishing and food processing business.
When Marcos formed the Private Sector Advisory Council at the start of his administration, Laurel was among the members of its “agriculture sector.”
Marcos named himself agriculture chief to directly supervise the department amid pressing concerns such as food self-sufficiency, rising prices of goods, and smuggling. He held on to the post until Laurel’s appointment despite a number of controversies hitting the government office and growing calls to appoint a full time agriculture chief.
There is no law preventing winning candidates from appointing their contributors to government posts. But election watchdogs said a legal prohibition might be worth exploring so as not to encourage “venture capitalism” in Philippine elections. (READ: Covering Campaign Finance: The Philippine experience)
There are donors who contribute or “invest” in candidates because they want or expect contracts or appointments in government, according to watchdogs.
Two of Marcos’ donors were immediately appointed upon his assumption in 2022.
His top individual donor, Melquiades A. Robles, was appointed chief of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) in July 2022. He contributed P30 million directly to Marcos’ campaign, based on the President’s declarations to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
PCSO is in charge of raising and providing funds for health programs and medical assistance.
Antonio Ernesto “Anton” Floirendo Lagdameo Jr. was also appointed Special Assistant to the President (SAP). It’s a position that oversees the Office of the Special Assistant to the President (OSAP), the Office of the Appointments Secretary, and the Presidential Management Staff (PMS).
Lagdameo was the treasurer of Marcos’ party Partido Federal ng Pilipinas and was listed as the donor of the in-kind donation given by his party to the campaign.
Lagdameo is also the grandson of a close business associate of his father and namesake, Philippine dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.
Three other donors who gave smaller sums to the campaign have been appointed to government posts, records show.
Hubert Dominic Guevara, Nesauro Hernandez Firme, and Joeben Ang Tai contributed a total of P4 million.
Guevara and Firme both served as legal counsel to the Marcos campaign. Guevera donated P1 million in cash, while Firme contributed P100,000 in-kind, based on the President’s declarations to Comelec.
Guevara, now Senior Deputy Executive Secretary under the Office of the President, was appointed in August 2022. An RTVM report on the same month also said Guevara took oath as Assistant Presidential Legal Counsel, the same time as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Erile.
He served as director of the Philippine Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) during the Arroyo administration and was with the agency until 2010. He led the Compliance and Enforcement Department.
As Senior Deputy Executive Secretary, Guevara is part of the inner circle advising and assisting former chief justice and current Executive Secretary Lucas Bersamin.
Firme, meanwhile, is now the representative of the academe in the Judicial and Bar Council (JBC). The Council is under the leadership of the Supreme Court, and is primarily tasked to nominate appointees to the judiciary. As one of its members, Firme has the power to vote for or against nominees to the highest Court.
Firme taught law at the De La Salle University-Dasmariñas, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and Jose Rizal University.
According to the JBC website, he started serving as consultant in 2013 for several local government units and government offices, including for the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG). The Commission is tasked to recover the ill-gotten wealth accumulated by the Marcos family during the dictatorship. The website said Firme consulted for PCGG for six months.
Joeben Ang Tai, who is now general manager of the National Housing Authority (NHA), donated P2.9 million worth of in-kind donations to the President’s campaign. The agency is mandated to provide housing for low-income families.
Tai is no stranger in real estate. He was the CEO of Grand Taipan Land Development Inc., based on news reports published in April 2020. The company owns Verano Greenhills, a 51-story luxury hotel building in San Juan City. END
Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office