vote buying

Vote-buying an election offense, says Comelec after Robredo’s remark

Dwight de Leon

Jessica Lazaro/Rappler

(3rd UPDATE) Vice President Robredo's advice to domestic workers to accept bribe money but vote according to one's conscience has sparked a fiery debate online, although her stand is not new, and is shared by other presidential aspirants

The spokesman of the Commission on Elections asserted that vote-buying is an election offense, after Vice President Leni Robredo’s statement on vote-selling ignited a heated debate on social media.

“Vote-buying is an election offense regardless of financial situation or noble intentions. That should not be done or suggested to voters,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez tweeted in a mix of English and Filipino on Wednesday, October 27.

“I disagree with the notion of taking the money and voting according to your conscience,” Jimenez added, in an apparent reference to Robredo’s comments a day prior.

On Tuesday, October 26, Robredo had been asked in a virtual dialogue with Filipino domestic workers on what they should do if someone attempts to buy their vote.

Robredo said she was against the illegal practice because she had to fight it when she first joined politics in 2013 during the congressional race in Camarines Sur. She said the process has become more high-tech too, and thus even less likely to get detected, as the money can be sent through GCash, for example, or other similar means.

“Alam mo, mali siya, mali ‘yung pagbibili ng boto. Pero ‘yung sinasabi ko sa tao, tanggapin ‘nyo…. ‘Yung pinangbibili ng boto, pera din ‘yan ng taongbayan,” Robredo told the domestic workers.

(You know, it’s wrong to buy votes. But I always tell people to accept the money…. Because the money being used to buy votes is the people’s money anyway.)

Robredo had also suggested that getting the money and voting for another candidate would likely end the culture of vote-buying since unscrupulous candidates would come to realize that their scheme wouldn’t work.

Prohibited activity

Jimenez’s reminder on vote-buying is based on the Omnibus Election Code, which enumerates vote-buying and vote selling as election offenses that are punishable with imprisonment of up to six years and perpetual disqualification to hold public office.

That 1985 law says vote-buying takes place when a person “gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private, or makes or offers to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity, or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate.”

Watchdogs and clean polls advocates have pushed back on the prohibited election activity, although the practice has remained rampant through the decades in the Philippines.

Election lawyer Emil Marañon III, in a 2019 piece, explained that no one has been jailed or disqualified for violating the measure because while the Comelec executes election laws, their effective enforcement “equally depends on our law enforcement agencies and the active participation of our citizenry.”

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Marañon, who is also a legal consultant of the Robredo camp, offered a sober take on vote-buying and vote-selling in a Rappler piece in 2016, saying it’s “time to change our hypocritical approach to vote-buying.”

“We, the fortunate ones, can afford to take the moral high ground and conveniently argue that the poor should not sell their votes,” he wrote. “But seen through the lens of someone who has nothing to eat, money is money, and this is the painful reality that we have to include in our equation.”

Not only Robredo

Robredo’s remark on vote-buying is not new, or uncommon. Other 2022 presidential aspirants held the same view.

In the 2016 elections, then-vice presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., said, “Sige, kunin ninyo ang pera inyo naman talaga ‘yan, tapos gawin ninyo yung gusto ninyo (Go ahead, take the money because that’s reallt yours, then vote for whomever you want).”

NOT NEW. In his press release in 2016, dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. also advised voters to accept bribe money but vote for whomever they wanted.
Senate website screenshot

In the 2013 elections in Manila, then-reelectionist vice mayor Isko Moreno also said, “Tanggapin po ninyo ang pera o suhol ng isa pagkatapos ang ilagay Estrada, Isko sa balota (Accept the bribe money of others but put [Joseph] Estrada and Isko on the ballot).”

On Wednesday, Moreno released an update statement on his position on vote-buying: “Hindi mo masisisi ang tao na tumatanggap ng pera sa hirap ng buhay. Ngunit matalino ang Pilipino. Alam nila kung sino ang tunay na lider na may malakasakit sa kanila at kung sino ang fake. Hindi kayang maliitin ng mga pulitiko ang pag-unawa ng tao. Matalino ang Pilipino.”

(You can’t blame people if they accept money, because of their difficulties in life. But Filipinos are smart. They know who a true leader is, someone who has compassion for their, and who is fake. Politicians cannot underestimate people. Filipinos are intelligent.)

Asked about the vote-buying issue, Senator Manny Pacquiao said: “Ang masasabi ko lang, ang pagtulong sa kapwa ay hindi lang dahil ikaw ay kandidato at tuwing  may eleksyon lang.  ‘Pag ikaw ay pulitiko at nasa   public service, dapat handa kang tumulong  sa mga nangangailangan, sa lahat ng pagkakataon at hindi…tuwing eleksyon lang.”

(What I can only say is that you shouldn’t help others just because you’re a candidate or during elections only. If you’re a politician and in public service, you should be ready to help those who are in need, at all times, and not…only during elections.)

He added: “Matalino at gising na  po ang mga botanteng mahihirap.  Alam nila kung sino ang  nagkukunwari at kung sino ang tumutulong ng totoo (Poor voters are smart and aware. They know who are pretending and who are really there to help).”

Senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, presidential aspirant from ruling party PDP-Laban, meanwhile, took an apparent swipe at Robredo over her remarks.

“‘Nay, huwag mong turuan ang mga kasambahay maging estafador! ‘Wag tanggapin ang pera at ireport sa pulis ang vote buyer! (Miss, don’t teach house helpers to be crooks! Don’t accept the money and report vote-buyers to policemen),” said Dela Rosa.

But even President Rodrigo Duterte justified vote-buying on election day in 2019.

“It’s not because I’m buying the vote of the fellow. It’s because I’m giving him the money to go to the precinct to cast his vote. Or you send food to your leaders who are here sacrificing and waiting for the food to eat so they can last until the last vote is counted,” Duterte had said.

Clarifying her remarks, Robredo on Wednesday maintained she is not condoning vote-buying, and urged the authorities to be stricter in implementing the law banning vote-buying in the country.

Ang hinihingi natin sa mga awtoridad na sana ‘yung enforcement nito, maging maayos. Kasi kung hindi maayos ‘yung enforcement, talaga ‘yung mga nagko-commit ng crime na ‘yun, ‘di naman napaparusahan,” Robredo said. 

(We ask authorities to properly enforce the law against vote-buying. If not, people committing the crime will go unpunished.) – with reports from Mara Cepeda, Bea Cupin, Pia Ranada, Aika Rey/Rappler.com

Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers local government units and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.