MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – In an unprecedented move to curb vote buying, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has decided to control the “unusual withdrawal of cash” close to election day, poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr said Tuesday, May 7.
Under the so-called "money ban," the Comelec limits cash withdrawals to P100,000 from Wednesday, May 8, to election day, May 13.
The ban covers the equivalent of this amount "in any foreign currency, per day in banks, finance companies, quasi-banks, pawnshops, remittance companies, and institutions performing similar functions," according to Comelec Resolution No. 9688 promulgated Wednesday. It doesn't cover all non-cash transactions. (Watch more in the video below.)
The new Comelec resolution also prohibits "the transportation and/or carrying of cash exceeding P500,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency from May 8 to 13, 2013." The resolution said carrying or transporting such amount "shall be presumed for the purpose of vote buying and electoral fraud in violation of the money ban."
The poll body, however, exempts "farmers, merchants, and other persons similarly situated," as long as they present "proof of their occupation and the transaction which generated the cash exceeding the threshold."
The resolution allows warrantless arrests against vote buyers and sellers. (Read the full "money ban" resolution below.)
The Comelec has deputized the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and other government financial agencies to implement this resolution. It has also directed all existing Comelec checkpoints to monitor compliance with the money ban.
Restraint of trade?
In an interview with reporters, Brillantes said because the proposal involves only cash withdrawals, this means trade and industry "will not be affected.” He said the rule will cover cash because "no one buys votes using checks."
“We're trying to prevent the circulation of cash, which can be used for vote buying... If we will limit it to only P100,000 each, it will be very difficult to withdraw millions of pesos," Brillantes said.
The BSP, on the other hand, said the possible rule may constitute a “restraint of trade” as well as violate bank secrecy, according to Brillantes. He said the BSP is "not really happy with our proposals."
The Comelec chairman, however, said he doesn't see anything wrong about this.
“Hindi naman namin titingnan 'yung account nu'ng mga tao; ikontrol mo lang 'yung withdrawals ng cash,” Brillantes explained. (We're not looking into the bank accounts of people; we will just control their withdrawals of cash.)
In April, Brillantes said the Comelec was brewing a "debatable" rule against vote-buying that involves "constitutional issues." He said this should surprise politicians close to D-Day.
The Comelec uses one of the powers given it by the Constitution.
The Constitution allows the Comelec to "deputize, with the concurrence of the President, law enforcement agencies and instrumentalities of the government... for the exclusive purpose of ensuring free, orderly, honest, peaceful, and credible elections."
Based on observations by poll watchdogs, vote-buying has become more rampant under the automated election system. This is because the automated system has made it more difficult for operators to cheat during canvassing – an observation that critics say is arguable.
An election lawyer for over two decades, Brillantes has vowed to use his experience to cleanse the election process. In an earlier interview with Rappler, he said his knowledge of dirty tricks works to his advantage. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.