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Ex-Comelec exec on 2016 polls: 'Vote-buying now is just crazy’

MANILA, Philippines – While the automated elections has reduced the avenues for cheating, there are more incidents of vote buying now than in the last presidential elections, a former commissioner of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said on Saturday, May 7.

Former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal made the statement on Rappler Talk, when asked whether cheating in the elections is less rampant now than when the country used a manual voting system.

“Well, automated [elections] eliminated some forms of cheating but it increased the number of incidents of vote buying. It just blew up. Vote buying now is just crazy,” Larrazabal said.

Asked to clarify his statement after the interview, he said: “It’s getting crazy. There’s more vote buying now and I think it’s getting to a point that people accept vote buying now in some areas.” This is more on the local level, he added.

Responding to questions, Larrazabal said that vote buying would continue for as long as there is collusion between candidates and the people manning the polling precincts.

He said that in manual voting, for instance, cheaters used the “cadena de amor (chain of love)” scheme, wherein a voter who has been paid off is given a pre-filled ballot. The voter puts the latter in the ballot box, then brings out his or her unused ballot and hands it over to the handler, who fills it out and gives another pre-filled ballot to another voter.

“I don’t want to sound [like a broken record] but vigilance is key. As long as the watchers are aware, they know what to look out for, they will at least minimize incidents of cheating. Some watchers don’t know what to look out for. They don’t know what to focus on. They just look at the voter, then they end up chatting with other watchers,” he said.

Lingering concerns

On Comelec preparedness to conduct the national and local elections, Larrazabal said that the poll body still has to address “some concerns” such as proper dissemination of the amended resolution on replacement ballots to Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) released only on Friday.

“They have to disseminate that information to the people on the ground,” he said, adding that this would mean some “some minute training” for the BEIs.

“Not sure if they can do that but they have to try,” Larrazabal added.

The Comelec had responded to concerns raised by poll watchdogs about Resolution 10177, which allows ballot replacement for voters whose ballots are rejected by vote-counting machines (VCMs) through no fault of their own.

The poll body provided guidelines to BEIs to determine whether or not to to replace ballots rejected by VCMs.

He said while the BEIs may get informed about the amended resolution through traditional and social media, this may not reach some BEIs in remote areas.

“They have to be aware of the new rules. If there’s disinformation or lack of dissemination of information, it will cause confusion and with that tight race now, tempers will fly and that will cause problems,” Larrazabal said.

He noted that in 2010, BEIs mostly complained of harassment, not by candidates’ thugs or private armed groups, but by voters who endured long queues, among other things.

“You expect the same thing now that people will complain and the BEIs have to be informed of the rules so they will be able to answer it correctly,” Larrazabal said. – Rappler.com