MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Malacañang doubts former presidential aide Bong Go will face any charges for vote-buying, saying the distribution of cash donations to fire victims should not fall under the definition of the election offense.
"Baka mahirapan eh kasi what it says there is that 'will induce the voter to be influenced.' Mukhang iba ang situation dito kay Bong Go sapagkat these are donations and they are fire victims," Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo said on Tuesday, March 19.
(They will probably have a hard time because what it says there is that 'will induce the voter to be influenced.' This looks like a different situation because these are donations and they are fire victims.)
In Rappler's exclusive report, Comission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez said Go's donations of cash to fire victims in separate visits to Makati and Manila fire survivors count as vote-buying even if the senatorial candidate did not explicitly solicit votes at the time.
The Omnibus Election Code defines vote-buying as giving, offering, or promising "money or anything of value...in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate."
“Just like with campaign propaganda, no need for the explicit solicitation of votes,” Jimenez had said.
Panelo dismissed Jimenez's remarks, saying that in the end, it will be Comelec commissioners, not its spokesman, who will decide on any complaint to be filed against Go on the incidents.
"'Yun lang ang opinion ng spokesman. Hindi naman siya magdedecide; it's the Commission (That's only the opinion of the spokesman. He won't decide; it's the Commission)," said Panelo.
The Comelec is currently dominated by Duterte appointees. Including Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas, 4 out of the 7 Comelec members are Duterte appointees.
Panelo said there's no way Go's cash assistance can be construed as inducing voters to vote for him, since they were meant for fire victims needing assistance.
"The operative word is inducement. If the intention is to induce then you will be violating the provision but the problem is how will you prove inducement especially in this particular case where they are fire victims? It would be different if you give na wala nang dahilan (for no reason)," said Panelo.
However, election lawyer Emil Marañon III had described vote-buying as an act that is malum prohibitum, meaning intent behind the act is immaterial and mere commission of the act is enough.
"Vote-buying, which is punished under the Omnibus Election Code, a special law, is a malum prohibitum. An act which is declared malum prohibitum, malice or criminal intent is completely immaterial,” Marañon had said.
Rappler found that the cash assistance was given by Go's camp, either during or right after Go paid fire surivivors a visit. The senatorial candidate's visit included delivering his speech where he mentions his commitment to helping Duterte and his anger at corrupt officials.
Panelo described the former Cabinet member as a "responsible person" with his own team of lawyers.
Nevertheless, Panelo said any person is free to file a vote-buying complaint against Go before the Comelec.
"If they feel he has violated eh di magfile para magkaalaman (then let them file a complaint so we can find out). We'll let the Comelec decide," he said.
Go's rise in surveys
A few days after the Rappler report, Pulse Asia released its February 2019 survey showing Go had risen to the 3rd to 5th spot in voters’ preferences for senatorial candidates.
Panelo attributed this to Go's constant presence beside the President, especially in public events broadcast by media.
“Print media, television, you always see him. When you see the President, he’s there, whether hes behind him, talking to him.... So the awareness is very high,” said Panelo.
Asked if Go’s constant presence at Duterte’s events, despite the fact that he holds no government position at the moment, gave him an unfair advantage over other candidates with meager resources, Panelo said the two cannot be “deprived” of their “friendship.”
“Why should it be unfair? Are you going to deprive two people of friendship? All candidates will be doing that. If somebody likes you and he is prominent and influential, you would want to be siding with him,” said the Duterte spokesman. – Rappler.com