The Scrum: Can Mar Roxas be charged with vote buying?
I’ll go straight to the point: no.
If the basis of the complaint would be the now-viral video of a Liberal Party rally in Cotabato, where envelopes were handed to a couple of persons from the audience, then don’t look at the standard-bearer.
The biggest fellow that political rivals and election watchdogs can drag to the Commission on Elections and the courts would be the poor program emcee or the local politician who organized the rally for Mar Roxas. That’s what our election laws indicate.
Strictly speaking, even the local politician can get off the hook. So poor emcee, who’s likely just trying to earn a living entertaining crowds for any candidate, will be the only one facing possible jail time.
If we want to be gung-ho about this, then we can certainly sue the two women who probably were just thankful to have received a prize while killing time at their candidate’s rally.
But not Mar Roxas.
What the video shows
Netizens instantly took a jab at Digong Duterte’s original favorite punching bag when the video was posted by KutangBato Vlogger on Saturday, April 16. The video, taken two weeks earlier, surfaced just as the Davao City mayor’s camp was itself fending off the backlash of his rape joke caught on video.
The one-and-a-half-minute long video shows the emcee of LP’s March 31 rally in Pikit, Cotabato, rehearsing the crowd to chant “Oras na, Roxas na!” In game show host fashion, he tells the audience that those who don’t cheer loud enough won’t get envelopes.
The video jumps to another scene where a contest is apparently being held. A lady who gives the correct answer is handed an envelope. The scene cuts to another member of the audience who is also given an envelope. The video jumps again to the moment Roxas arrives at the gymnasium and the emcee leads the crowd in shouting the campaign slogan they rehearsed.
The video doesn’t show what is inside the envelopes handed to the two ladies. I’ve attended too many campaign rallies, however, to safely assume that those contained money or gift certificates or anything that could give the recipient a treat for a day. Local politicians do that, in almost all public gatherings, even outside the campaign season.
The clip doesn’t have a post-rally scene to check whether envelopes are handed – as the emcee promised – to those sitting in the gym’s section where the loudest cheer came from.
Having witnessed the realities of campaigns on the ground, I am not a purist when it comes to labelling an act as vote buying. When the circle is not closed – I pay, you agree, you deliver, I check, I’m satisfied – no vote buying transpired.
We’ve heard candidates themselves, even watchdogs and bishops, say something like this: get the money, keep your vote. (READ: Time to change our hypocritical approach to vote buying)
In the case of the Pikit rally, I’d be careful to call it vote buying if there is no proof that, after handing out the envelopes to the two women, the LP organizers pulled them to a corner to instruct them to vote for Mar Roxas, and would be following them until election day to make sure they would deliver.
But let’s check the laws.
What election laws say
Was it vote buying? It could be.
Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code defines a vote buyer as “any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value…directly or indirectly…to any person…or community in order to induce anyone...or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his vote in the election.”
Because the buying is an election offense, the selling is considered a crime too. You sue the one who gave the envelopes, you sue the ones who received them as well.
Election lawyer and Rappler columnist Emil Marañon III explained: “Notice the word ‘indirectly.’ You need not be so affront [about vote buying]. You can give money in the guise of a contest, but in the context of a campaign, it’s quite obvious what the money is for,” if indeed the envelopes contained money.
Another part of the Code, Section 89, deals directly with political gatherings such as the Cotabato rally. It considers unlawful for candidates and political camps to provide free transportation, food, drinks, “or things of value” to people – again “directly or indirectly” – “5 hours before and after a public meeting.”
As for my practical criterion that an act must be considered vote buying only when there’s a mechanism to check if indeed the recipient voted for the candidate, Marañon said “it's not an element.”
The act of making and accepting a payment is enough to constitute the crime of vote buying and vote selling. “The ‘directly and indirectly’ [phrase in the Code] makes its coverage so encompassing,” the election lawyer said.
(This makes me realize: so when other candidates, election watchdogs, and even religious leaders advise us to take the payments from politicians but not to vote for them, they are actually telling us to commit a crime.)
But are these elements of vote buying enough to make the presidential candidate answerable?
Roxas is “not automatically” guilty, said Marañon. “There is a requirement of knowledge. That is required in special laws like election laws. Mar either had to know about the scheme before it was implemented, or he saw it, and failed to stop it. Tacit agreement had to be proven.”
Since rallies are mounted by local allies, in coordination with the candidates’ campaign organizers, details such as which emcee to hire, what contests to hold, and what prizes to give in every town or city are most likely approved without the knowledge of the presidential candidate.
You’ve got to get a host of whistle blowers up in the national candidate’s closest circle to testify that Roxas – or any presidential candidate, for that matter – was briefed on and approved a plan to hand out envelopes to this many persons in a distant town of Pikit during a rally on a specific date.
There’s another law that makes it even more difficult to find a candidate guilty of vote buying.
Section 28 of Republic Act 6646 (the law introduces “additional reforms” in the conduct of elections) requires proof that “at least one voter in different precincts representing at least twenty percent (20%) of the total precincts in any municipality, city or province has been offered, promised or given money, valuable consideration or other expenditure” by the candidate or anybody related to him and his campaign.
Pikit, where the rally caught on video was held, has 87 clustered precincts. Anybody who wants to go after Roxas, his organizers, local allies – and, yes, the emcee and the two ladies who got envelopes – will therefore have to secure an affidavit from at least 17 witnesses, one each from 17 different precincts.
Who knows, an honest-to-goodness investigation might yield those precious 17? All that’s needed, after all, is “a complaint…supported by affidavits of complaining witnesses” to get the Comelec started on a case. But, definitely, insinuations based on edited video won’t do. – Rappler.com
“The Scrum” is Rappler's take on issues and personalities of the 2016 elections. Derived from a media term that refers to reporters surrounding politicians to press them to answer questions and respond candidly, “The Scrum” hopes to spark smart conversations on politics and elections.
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