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NAGA CITY, Philippines - Clad in her signature "tsinelas" shirt popularized because of the lauded brand of public service by her late husband Jesse, Camarines Sur congressional bet Maria Leonor "Leni" Robredo filed a vote-buying complaint against incumbent Rep Luis Villafuerte and spouse, Nelly, at the city prosecutor's office on Thursday, May 9.
Luis is running for a gubernatorial post, while his wife is running against Leni in the province’s 3rd district. Leni is ahead of Nelly by a 62% margin, according to an April Taylor Nelson Sofres survey.
In an interview, the widow of the late Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Jesse Robredo said in a mix of English and the local dialect that, in filing an official vote buying charge, she intends to send a strong message that the people of Camarines Sur have had enough.
The province is among the poorest provinces in the country, after 27 years of the Villafuertes. (READ: CamSur: Among the poorest, with no new choices)
Robredo's complaint was filed two days after 3 witnesses filed an affidavit accusing the Villafuerte couple along with other local candidates of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) of distributing envelopes they called "diplomas" that contained P300 in cash, a membership card to the NPC, and a sample ballot.
As of posting time, The Villafuertes have not responded to all communication from Rappler. If the charges are proven true, they will be banned from running for public office as part of the penalty under the Omnibus Election Code.
In the preliminary inquiry, an eyewitness testified to the “rampant vote buying” held in the compound of their residence located at Basilica Road, Bgy Balatas, Naga City.
The Nagueño narrated how he and other registered voters were each given a brown envelope that contained P300 by Luis Villafuerte.
“One by one the attendees were given brown envelopes. I saw those who came before me open their respective envelopes, and I personally saw money inside,” he narrated.
According to him, they were provided forms to fill out, which were actually “pledge forms” to “support respondent Nelly Villafuerte, Cho Roco and all their candidates for councilors in Naga City.” They were also provided “blank IDs” that had signatures of Cho Roco and Nelly Villafuerte.
“I also observed that the way their names were printed, it was in the same style as that with the ballot, with shaded circle,” he said. The ballot sample was also provided as evidence.
On Tuesday, May 7, a group of civil society groups gathered in front of the house of the Villafuertes on Magsaysay, Naga City to rally against vote buying.
Amy (not her real name), a first time voter who was present in the rally, said that it was "an awful sight" to see fellow Nagueños outside the mansion of the Villafuertes.
“Parang isang malaking painting siya, kung saan makikita mo ang napakalaking divide sa mga mahihirap na tao sa mga mayayaman," she said. (It's like a big painting, where you get to see a wide divide between the rich and the poor.) – with a report from Raffy Magno/Rappler.com
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