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MANILA, Philippines (4th UPDATE) – The Philippine National Police (PNP) has formed 105 teams tasked to address suspected vote-buying incidents nationwide, and several arrests have so far been made a in relation to the 2019 midterm elections.
Special teams were created per district in Metro Manila and one per province around the country to fast track the response to vote-buying reports.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) reported that as of 2 am on Monday, May 13, there had been 32 reports of vote-buying incidents nationwide, and that the Philippine National Police (PNP) had arested 174 people in connection with these incidents since the start of the election period on January 13 until May 10.
The number of arrests represent a 7-fold incresed over the weekend, leading to election day. In a press conference on Friday, May 10, PNP Director for Operations Major General Mao Aplasca reported that the police had arrested 24 individuals suspected to be engaged in buying or selling votes since the start of the election period on January 13 until May 10.
Vote-buying and vote-selling are violations of the Omnibus Election Code under Section 261. A person is prohibited from giving money or anything of value to any person, association, corporation, entity, or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for any candidate. (READ: [EXPLAINER] Vote-buying is not just giving or taking cash)
Any person found guilty of committing an election offense, including vote-buying and selling, shall be perpetually disqualified from holding public office and shall forfeit their right to vote.
Here's a rundown of confirmed arrests of vote-buying and vote-selling in the Philippines. They range from what appears to be results of targeted surveillance (like the one in Bacoor City) to chance discoveries (like in Tagkawayan town). Some alleged forms of vote-buying cited by authorities are less definite or the amounts are smaller than the many incidents posted by social media users, reported by the media, or reported by concerned citizens via Rappler's #VoteBuyingPH campaign.
In a live interview on Sunday, May 12, during Rappler’s special coverage of the 2019 elections, Rappler news editor Miriam Grace Go said that “the well-intentioned campaign to prevent vote-buying” had been “twisted and weaponized” by partisan groups to work against political rivals. The local policemen – in at least one case, even the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) – could be complicit or unwitting accomplices.
Moises Padilla, Negros Occidental
Police arrested in two separate incidents a total of 28 people, including 3 minors, for alleged vote buying and illegal campaigning in Moises Padilla town in this province.
The first group of 12 persons, including two minors, were reportedly caught with sample ballots enclosed with two P500 bills
Police also intercepted a jeepney plying the Pulupandan-Bacolod route found with about 600 sample ballots; and arrested 12 individuals, including a minor, all allegedly involved in vote buying. Teelectionist Moises Padilla Mayor Magdaleno Peña called police to question the arrests on the jeepney, saying he hired them to help him, and were not involved in anything illegal.
Two Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) councilors and two other unidentified persons were arrested while playing basketball in Cogon Ramos in Cebu City early morning Sunday, May 12.
According to reelectionist Mayor Tomas Osmeña, 15 to 20 masked SWAT with no nameplates seized the young people's cellphones, prize and payroll money and was placed in an envelope tagged ‘vote-buying’
Osmeña posted on Facebook that the suspects won’t be able to get out until Tuesday, May 14, since Monday is a holiday.
Quezon City mayoral candidate Vincent "Bingbong" Crisologo was arrested for obstruction of justice on Sunday night, May 12, when he came to check on his campaign workers who were being arrested for alleged vote-buying.
PDP-Laban campaign spokesperson Ron Munsayac said the workers were only preparing kits for watchers when non-uniformed cops showed up in the area. “There was no cash there, only identification cards and other items,” he said.
NBI agents raided the poll watchers’ training session being conducted by the camp of Navotas City congressional candidate Marielle del Rosario of Aksyon Demokratiko, along with the Akbayan watchers, in Bacog, Barangay Daanghari, on Sunday, May 12.
Insisting that vote-buying was happening at the training session, the agents told Del Rosario’s election lawyer they didn’t need to present a search or arrest warrant because it was an entrapment operation.
Hours later, the NBI cleared the suspects of vote-buying allegations and "apologized for the inconvenience."
On Saturday, May 11, the police arrested 3 barangay officials and 57 residents of Barangay San Isidro, Makati City, for alleged buying and selling of votes.
The arrests were made inside the barangay hall by Makati policemen along with cops from the National Capital Region Police Office and the Southern Police District Special Operations Unit.
Among those confiscated were 820 pieces of P500 bills amounting to P410,000, 19 identification cards, 10 mobile phones, and a list of voters with their addresses and polling precinct numbers.
The arrests happened while Makati mayoral candidate Junjun Binay was holding his miting de avance along Lawton Avenue.
Barotac Nuevo, Iloilo
Three people were arrested for allegedly selling their votes in the town of Barotac Nuevo in Iloilo on May 10.
In an interview with RMN Iloilo, Police Captain Kenn Albert Lepsia of Barotac Nuevo Police Station said their intelligence operatives nabbed RollyTolin, Robert Araquel, and Leticia Cataluña after they were caught with envelopes containing sample ballots and cash amounting to P1,000 each.
Lepsia said that the envelopes were suspected to have come from the camps of gubernatorial candidate Ferjenel Biron and his running mate Christine Garin. However, this is still subject to verification.
The suspects were detained at the Barotac Nuevo Police Station waiting for cases to be filed, while the investigation is pending.
Sworn reports from field operatives will serve as documentation for the charges that will be filed against those arrested.
The police in the town of Ajuy, Iloilo, caught at least 4 individuals for alleged vote-buying on May 10.
According to an interview by Aksyonradyo Iloilo, Police Major John Van Luspo, chief of Ajuy Municipal Police Station, confirmed that Fe Dorban, Nemia Arellado, Solomon Ubay, and Edwin Yamson were caught giving money to voters in a compound in Sitio Pangpang, Barangay Poblacion during a police operation.
Authorities recovered a list of registered voters, and envelopes containing cash and sample ballots from the suspects. They later identified the arrested individuals as barangay health workers (BHW) and tanods.
Dorban denied her involvement and explained that she and her fellow BHWs were asked to be there to assist and explain election guidelines. She denied they were involved in the vote-buying incident.
Two men were caught in the town of Tagkawayan, Quezon, for buying and selling votes on May 8.
Police Major Milo Tabernilla said that the suspect Fredilino Cunanan was apprehended for not wearing a helmet while driving a motorcycle.
It was later discovered that he was carying 13 envelopes containing P500 each, stapled to a sample ballot with the names of candidates for governor, congressman, mayor, vice mayor, and councilors in Quezon.
A few hours later, the second suspect Darius Bonifacio was caught in possession of a P500 cash stapled to the same sample ballot.
Cunanan was charged with vote-buying, while Bonifacio admitted to and was charged for vote-selling.
The police's Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) nabbed 10 suspected vote buyers in Bacoor, Cavite, on May 5.
Those arrested were carrying a red notebook with a list of voters, a plastic bag containing red wristbands, and a total of P75,800 in P200 denomination inside brown envelopes.
The suspects were also found to be carrying shirts bearing the words "'Tapat sa Bayan, Tapat sa Usapan' Jonvic Remulla Gobernador and Jolo Revilla Bise Gobernador" on the front and "Vote WOW 169 PILIPINAS" at the back.
In a Facebook post, candidate Remulla clarified that the suspects were just poll watchers for their team who were tasked to distribute the transportation allowance of colleagues who were going to attend training sessions. The funds were not meant for vote-buying.