Pimentel: Comelec stats don’t reflect realities of vote buying

Bea Cupin

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'Even if there is a low number of cases...the fact [is] that vote buying...is already a curse plaguing the elections,' the senator says during a hearing

BEYOND STATS. Even if the numbers are low, Sen Koko Pimentel says vote buying is "already a curse plaguing the elections." File photo by Alex Nuevaespaña/Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines – Vote buying is a fact in Philippine elections, but why don’t the numbers reflect this?

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chair of the Senate committee on electoral reform, does not believe that statistics provided by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) reflect what’s happening on the ground.

“We need to free ourselves from the statistics of [the Commission on Election’s] law department,” Pimentel said on Monday, February 17, during a committee hearing on allegations of vote buying during the barangay elections in October 2013.

The hearing was a response to a resolution filed by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, seeking an inquiry into “massive vote buying that reportedly took place during the 2013 barangay elections.”

In the resolution, Santiago said vote buying was “the norm” in the province of Catanduanes, where candidates allegedly gave out coffee, noddles, pan de sal, and cash of up to P1,000 per voter.

“It appears that with the massive vote buying in several areas in the country, such has become the norm, giving rise to the presumption that the public and even the candidates place a low regard on the integrity of the barangay elections,” Santiago said in the resolution.

Reports ‘not reaching Comelec’

But according to Comelec, only two vote buying cases were filed in Region 5, where Catanduanes is located. Comelec did not hold fact-finding investigations in the region.

Comelec Law Department Director Esmeralda Amora-Ladra said the commission can only act on verified complaints. Ladra said no fact-finding investigations were called for in Region V because no complaints filed.

Election officials also cited data from their law department that only 56 cases of vote buying were filed during the May 2013 midterm elections.

“Even if there is a low number of cases, we must accept the fact that vote buying has been rampant and it’s already a curse plaguing the elections,” Pimentel said.

“That’s sad because it reached the Senate but not the Comelec,” said Pimentel, referring to incidents cited in Santiago’s resolution.

Vote buying is an issue very close to the senator’s heart. Pimentel claims he was cheated of a Senate seat in the 2007 elections. The senator filed an electoral process against resigned senator Miguel Zubiri, contesting votes in Mindanao provinces where some opposition candidates had zero votes. Zubiri was then a candidate of the administration.

Zubiri resigned just days before the Senate Electoral Tribunal proclaimed Pimentel the rightful winner of the polls.

PNP’s role

Tracking down cases of vote buying also falls into the hands of the Philippine National Police (PNP), which is deputized by the Comelec. PNP Acting Director for Operations Chief Superintendent Ricardo Marquez said police recorded 45 incidents of vote buying during the midterm elections in 2013.

While cases of vote buying were fewer during the barangay elections, both polls exposed a weakness in the PNP – their ability to investigate vote-buying cases themselves.

“[We recognized] the difficulty of building up a case when only our people on the street would be accessible because the Comelec officials were busy at that time,” he said. Although Comelec and the PNP set up a protocol, Marquez said it would be better for the police to know how to handle vote buying allegations.

Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia said the period between the 2013 and 2016 elections was the “best time” for the commission to crack down on vote buying and hold people accountable. “We have to focus our efforts on preventing vote buying,” he added. – Rappler.com

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Bea Cupin

Bea is a senior multimedia reporter who covers national politics. She's been a journalist since 2011 and has written about Congress, the national police, and the Liberal Party for Rappler.