MANILA — Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque on July 19, has clarified that President Rodrigo Duterte’s “sacks of cash” remark means he will raise funds for PDP-Laban candidates and allies in the 2022 elections. 

“Of course, he knows it’s illegal to use public funds for partisan purposes. But there is no prohibition in the Omnibus Election Code to raise funds from private individuals for the candidacies of individuals,” Roque said in a press briefing. 

“That’s what the President meant. It’s an assurance to his party mates that not only will he physically campaign for them, he will also raise funds for them,” he said.  

“Unfortunately, democracy can be very expensive,” he added. 

In a separate press briefing, PDP-Laban Secretary-general Melvin Matibag said he thought Duterte was joking.

“We all know that our President likes to make jokes,” Matibag said.

Duterte told members of his political party PDP-Laban on July 17 that he will bring “sacks of money” on the campaign trail when promoting allies during the 2022 national elections. 

“Those running for elections, ikakampanya ko kayo, city for city, totoo ‘yan… Talagang pupunta ako, city to city, province to province, kakampanya ako. At saka magdala ako ng maraming pera,” Duterte said.

“Sako kung mayroon,” he added.

Public funds may be used for the campaigns of Duterte allies

In a report by TV5’s News 5Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said, “Duterte’s boastful remark shows his clique is creating an enormous war chest in the run-up for the 2022 elections using public funds and resources,” Zarate said in a statement. 

“This wanton, shameless, and wholesale plunder of taxpayers’ money should end especially in this time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he added. 

Zarate noted that PDP-Laban might use the PHP16.4 billion Barangay Development Fund lodged under the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict while the Office of the President still has PHP4.5 billion confidential and intelligence funds. 

“There are also billions still to be obligated under Bayanihan 1 and 2. Initially, these would amount to more than PHP20 billion already,” Zarate said, noting there are also unspent and unobligated funds in other agencies which were earlier flagged by the Commission on Audit (COA).

“Akala ko ba walang pera? Wala lang palang pera kapag para sa ayuda ng mga naghihirap at nagugutom nating mga kababayan, pero kapag para sa pampulitika, pang-eleksyon, at vote-buying pala ay nagsubi na ng maraming pera,”Zarate added. 

Zarate also questioned the source of the funds and if it will “buy Duterte an escape route for the truckload of cases that he will face later on?”

Of course, offhand the President has control over the huge chunks of funds under his department,” Zarate said.

In another report by Rappler, during the same speech, Duterte said he will run for vice- president in the 2022 elections “to protect himself from legal cases.”

“Sabi ng batas, kung bise-presidente ka, may immunity ka. Eh ‘di tatakbo na lang ako ng bise- presidente,” he said. 

PDP-Laban members led by Energy Sec. Alfonso Cusi want Duterte to run for vice-president to continue the party’s dominance. 

Constitutional law expert Pacifico Agabin said the Constitution does not guarantee the immunity of the vice-president. Far Eastern University Institute of Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria and former Supreme Court spokesperson Ted Te echo Agabin.

“It’s only the president who is immune (from suit) and that is based on tradition because he is busy handling affairs of the state. But that cannot be said for the vice-0president,” Agabin said back when former vice-president Jejomar Binay claimed he was immune from suit while he faced a plunder case.

Meanwhile, the Omnibus Election Code listed under prohibited acts the “use of public funds, money deposited in trust, equipment, facilities owned or controlled by the government for an election campaign.” Use of government resources for “any partisan political activity” is also illegal.”

It is also prohibiting vote-buying or when a person “gives, offers, or promises money… in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate…”