DIPOLOG CITY, Philippines – Of the more than 30 local politicians invited to the candidates’ forum in Zamboanga del Norte, only three showed up for the candidates’ forum organized by a civil society group on Monday, May 2.
“At least we have three,” said Father Ramil Corong, social action director of the Catholic Diocese of Dipolog and provincial coordinator of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), the citizens’ arm of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Those who came were two candidates for mayor while the third was a vice-mayoral aspirant.
Corong expressed disappointment, saying the politicians should have given importance to the forum organized by the Dipolog Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Zamboanga del Norte Police Provincial Office Press Corps, Kapihan sa Dipolog, Zamboanga del Norte Press Club, Zamboanga del Norte United Correspondents, and PPCRV.
“You see, our challenge is how to select qualified leaders who have genuine platforms to lead and serve us… and we should know how they vision out the development that the people dream of,” he said.
Those invited are running for governor, vice governor, mayor, or vice mayor in the cities of Dapitan and Dipolog, and representatives of the province’s three districts.
Of Dipolog’s three mayoral candidates, only Rommel Jalosjos and lawyer Clyde Naong came while incumbent Mayor Darel Dexter Uy was a no-show during the forum. Naong’s running mate, Thaddeus Sorronda, showed up.
Reacting to pronouncements that the candidates’ forums do not matter because voters can be bought anyway, Corong said: “No, not all. Some can be bought, but there are still a lot who refuse to sell their votes.”
He said the organizers of the forum were sending a message that votes are important, and must be protected.
“The votes of the poor and the rich are the same. We are powerful during elections because we can choose our leaders. Let’s vote because it is not just everyone’s duty; it is also everyone’s right,” Corong said.
Just like in other provinces, Zamboanga del Norte has been known for excessive vote-buying practices – in the 2019 elections in Dapitan City alone, the buying price reportedly reached as high as P5,000. This early, talk has it could go up to P10,000 per voter in Dipolog or Dapitan cities in this month’s elections.
“Nobody calls it vote-buying. They just call it pahalipay (gratuity or goodwill money),” said Rex Hamoy, a history professor at the Jose Rizal Memorial State University.
Hamoy said records show that vote-buying in the province started in the 1940s when a political candidate in Dapitan gave 10 centavos to voters.
From that, the practice took other forms throughout the years like giving voters free rides, dole-outs, jobs, and worse, the distribution of crisp bills with “sample ballots” in envelopes. – Rappler.com