Why votes are bought and sold

Jake Crisologo
Vote buying works in a loop of poverty. The poor need money and the politicians give them money.

When your party list loses in the elections, no matter how much you thought you would and should win, you reflect a lot on how it happened; how you went wrong in the campaign and what you could have done differently.

You go to rallies, shake hands with people, they cheer for you until they’re hoarse, and they look at you with so much hope that you think waking up at 4:00 am to hop around barangays is all worth it. Then you lose, wondering what the heck happened. Were you too naïve?

What does it take really, to win in the Philippine elections?

In social media, we were talking about Nancy Binay (Far too much and far too harshly if you ask me. Like, so what if she looks like the Black Nazarene in a senator’s toga?), also the importance of credentials, and basically who we ought to have voted for.

All the while, we forgot that not everybody’s on Facebook.

The political machinery of the elections obviously goes beyond Facebook or Twitter. It also goes beyond the middle-class ideals and principles that were so prevalent in social media, since most of its users are in this economic bracket in the first place. 

So what are these ideals? And why the middle class?

These ideals are basically the ones we were taught when we celebrate democracy. We were taught that we had the power; that our representation in government must be based on character and capability, and that government must be by the people, for the people. It’s the democracy that should be but isn’t.

More or less, the middle class is in the best position to understand this because they are privileged enough to be educated, but not rich or poor enough to be exposed to a limited scope of economics and democratic responsibility.

Let’s be honest; most of the rich are too spoiled and comfortable with their lives that they don’t really care about what happens to the rest of us, and the extremely poor are too hungry to have time to think of anything else.

Extreme economic disparity is a reality in the Philippines. Most Filipinos are poor, with incidents of poverty rising in the past few years in spite of “economic success” stories we’ve heard under the current administration. Yes, there is economic growth. But is it inclusive?

Well, that depends on who you’re talking to. But my bet is, it isn’t.

Poverty and vote-buying

So now let’s talk about why and how votes are sold, and how this is related to poverty. A lot of this is purely anecdotal, and I can’t support this with hard and quantitative evidence (yet), but this is why I think vote buying works.

On one level, vote buying works in a loop of poverty. The poor need money and the politicians give them money. The politicians corrupt public funds to get back their “investment” in the campaign and there’s little or none left for programs that might actually alleviate poverty. It happens all over again come the next election season.

On another level, especially in small provinces, it’s simply about a culture that actually views vote-buying positively. How could you say no to the very nice politician who’s giving each of your family members (of voting age) P500-P1,000, when you barely make half of that in the day? How could you say no when it’s almost enrollment season and your kid needs new shoes and notebooks?

Another is basically being utilitarian with alienation from the government. You think that the government is hopeless anyway; that whoever’s there is going to be as rotten anyway. The lesser evil is the one who pays more.

Another is more sinister: you were threatened at gun-point to take the money and vote.

But the most awful for me is the perspective of resentment – that elections are the only time when the poor feel powerful because this is when rich politicians need them. It’s a twisted and false form of empowerment because it’s obviously temporary and delusional.

They sell their votes thinking that for once, they have had one over the big guys in power when they’ve obviously been duped in the long run. It’s disempowerment that is terrible because you do not know that you are already being disempowered.

My argument here, therefore, is simple: the poor must be empowered to break the loop of vote-buying. But what empowers in the first place?


Knowing more, for one, empowers. When people are better educated and given access to information, it’s easier to understand the societal responsibility in democracy; that it’s not just you and whether or not you’re P500 richer at the end of the day.

What’s in the way of comprehending not just the power of democracy, but its attached responsibilities as well, is poverty.

As eloquently as brilliant platforms can be said by those who ran with sincerity, the language of hunger and need is easier to understand.

I don’t believe that the poor are stupid for voting for the “undeserving” but “generous.” I believe that the poor felt that they had little choice in the whole thing. And isn’t it ironic that democracy should essentially be about choices?

Many of those who bought votes won, as far as the stories we heard are concerned. Now that they have, whether they deserved to or not, we now have our government. But as dismal as it seems to many of us, maybe hope isn’t as overrated as political cynics and hipsters paint it to be.

So what can we hope for?

It’s been said before: education needs to be more accessible and poverty should be alleviated. But we’ve been in a loop for so long; can we even do it for real this time?

I sincerely hope so. These days, it’s cynicism that’s overrated. – Rappler.com



Jake Crisologo works as a writer and researcher for Social Watch Philippines and Prof Leonor Magtolis Briones. He is the Secretary of the Philippine Youth Development Initiatives Inc, a civil society organization devoted to youth empowerment. He is currently completing studies in BS Tourism at the Asian Institute of Tourism, University of the Philippines, Diliman.