Comelec urges public to report vote-buying
Read Part 1: The many ways of buying votes
MANILA, Philippines – “The voters we educate them as much as we can, but you cannot legislate good behavior,” Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson James Jimenez said, commenting on the upcoming election.
“Vote buying is a problem that will stay with us until such time that people are enlightened about it and how it’s ridiculous,” Jimenez added.
In fact, vote buying has consistently been among the top election violations documented by the Comelec.
|Top election laws violations based on complaints filed in 2010
Threats, intimidation, terrorism, use of fraudulent device or other forms of coercion
Vote buying and vote selling
Transfer of officers and employees in the civil service within the election period
Intervention of public officers and employees
Problems in the contents of certificate of candidacy
Under the Omnibus Election Code, vote buying and vote selling are election offenses.
Violators may be imprisoned for 1 to 6 years, disqualified from holding public office, and barred from voting. The penalty goes for both vote buyer and seller, Jimenez explained.
"Some people even sell promises," said Jimenez. "[They give] away vouchers conditionally effective. Saying, if I win, this is effective for one hospital confinement; if I lose, it’s a scrap of paper."
"Some promise inclusion in the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. If the candidate loses, you will be kicked out of CCT," he continued.
Forms of vote-buying
Giving, offering, or promising the following:
|Food, groceries, gadgets, livestock, or anything of value|
|Water and electricity services|
|Franchise or grant|
|Political, financial, and other forms of favors|
Although vote buying and selling are rampant, the Comelec admits difficulty in trailing violators.
"Before 2013, it was rather difficult to catch these people in the act. Because obviously, both parties have an interest in not being exposed," explained Jimenez.
"The vote buyer doesn’t want to be exposed; the vote seller doesn’t want to be embarrassed for being revealed as a person with no sense of civic duty. They're both complicit, so it’s very difficult."
"In the past, vote buying was considered to be one of the most difficult offenses to prosecute," Jimenez added.
Since the 2010 poll automation, incidences of vote buying has increased, the Comelec observed.
Before poll automation, the effect of vote buying is not very large, said Jimenez. "You buy votes of 10 people, so what? It’s not going to make a big difference in the grand scheme of things. Locally, it has an effect. But again, if you’re looking at elections as a whole, it would be very small."
The scene, however, changed in 2010. Candidates and operators could no longer affect the outcome of election results, Jimenez stressed, so they had to buy votes instead.
"Not a lot of people get this. Before automation, in an election, in order to win all you really need to do was to influence the preparation of the election reports," Jimenez said.
"The voting itself essentially turned to be immaterial because the election return would be changed anyway to reflect the outcome the candidate wants. So why would you bother convincing people to vote for you when you can influence the writing of the report?"
But with automation, candidates could no longer influence teachers and canvassers since machines do the work.
"Because they can no longer affect the preparation of election reports, politicians and operators had to focus on what they could affect. How? Through vote buying," said Jimenez.
The Comelec says it is doing its best in monitoring vote buying.
In 2013, it tried to curb the problem by implementing an "election money ban." Under this rule, the Comelec limits cash withdrawals to P100,000 during the week approaching election day.
The Comelec resolution also prohibits "the transportation and/or carrying of cash exceeding P500,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency" during that period. Carrying or transporting such amount "shall be presumed for the purpose of vote buying and electoral fraud in violation of the money ban."
"A lot of vote buying operations are cash transactions, which means that on election day, you do have people walking around with huge bags of cash," Jimenez told Rappler.
"In the run-up to the elections, maybe 2 to 3 days before the election, plenty of cash flood the market, which is why we instituted what we called the money ban."
"Unfortunately, that was tied up in the SC. It was never declared unconstitutional, it was declared ultimately moot because the election was already over and it still wasn't resolved. There was a temporary restraining order," Jimenez explained.
"But the money ban represented a concrete step to address the problem systemically rather than symptom-based. Because we wanted to take money out of the ecosystem so that people could not give money, simple as that," he continued.
Since the idea was shut down, Jimenez said they have shifted their focus on enforcing existing rules.
"Vote buying will always be a reality that we have to contend with," Jimenez said. "The best we can do is to adjust systemically by removing cash money from the system temporarily, with enough safeguards of course to protect legitimate concerns."
With the start of the campaign season on February 9, the Comelec advises the public to remain vigilant. Anyone can report campaign violations, including online activities and vote buying, by using #SumbongKo on social media.
"For the most part, communities are aware of vote buying operations. That's how it spreads, by word of mouth. Report it," Jimenez advised. – Rappler.com
Know of any election-related wrongdoings? Use the #PHVoteWatch map to report vote buying and vote selling, campaign finance anomalies, election-related violence, campaign violations, technical glitches, and other problems observed among communities.
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