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Business titans secretly funding presidential bets

Philippine presidential favorite Rodrigo Duterte has flippantly brushed aside campaign trail allegations of accepting million dollar gifts, while his rivals have refused to disclose their backers, deepening concerns over business titans’ shadowy grip on politics.

The Philippines has one of Asia’s biggest rich-poor divides, with poverty rates remaining stuck in recent years despite strong economic growth, and analysts say one of the reasons for the disparity is the debt that politicians owe their secret backers.

Under the nation’s campaign financing laws, there are no caps on how much people or companies can give to candidates, nor are there limits on individual donations. They also do not have to reveal their backers until a month after polling day.

Duterte has entrenched himself as the clear frontrunner for today’s elections by portraying himself as a frugal, anti-establishment politician who is tough 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 elite.

But in the final stages of the campaign trail, Duterte, who is meant to earn less than $2,000 (P94,000) a month as the mayor of the southern city of Davao, was hit with allegations that millions of dollars had poured into secret bank accounts.

He initially denied there were any hidden accounts. After a journalist deposited money into them, he admitted they did exist and that P193.7 million ($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 said, refusing to disclose who they were. (AFP)