COMMENT: Vote-Buying Galore

“Vote-buying and vote-selling” is the first election offense under “Prohibited Acts” (Sec. 261) of the Omnibus Election Code – one of the many, in fact, myriads. Viewed from the reality happening, the most heinous vote-buying and vote-selling has not been included in Sec. 261(a-1) and (a-2).

What Is It?

Vote-buying and vote-selling are inseparable complements of one offense. Where there’s buying, there’s selling; where there’s a seller, there’s a buyer. Two complementary acts of two parties complementing each other make up one offense.

(a-1). Vote-buying is:

Giving, offering or promising money or anything of value;

Giving or promising any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private;

Making or offering to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly;

Causing an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity, 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, or to vote for or against any aspirant for the nomination or choice of a candidate in a convention or similar selection process of a political party.

The “buyer” is “any person”.

(a-2). “Vote-selling” is an act of soliciting or receiving, “directly or indirectly, any expenditure or promise of any office or employment, public or private, for any of the foregoing considerations” — enumerated in (a-1) above.

The “seller” is “any person, association, corporation, group or community”.

De Venecia, Et Al.

House Speaker Jose de Venecia, running for reelection in the fourth district of Pangasinan, is facing vote-buying charges from the followers of his opponent, Benjamin Lim, for allegedly distributing accident insurance cards to voters in his district. To return the favor, his followers also charged Lim of the same offense for allegedly giving out cash (P50 to P100) and bags of canned goods, sugar, rice, bread and T-shirt.

In Pasig City, mayoral candidates Rep. Robert “Dodot” Jarworski and Robert “Bobby” Eusebio have charged and countercharged each other of vote-buying through their followers – all involving P500 cash given out to voters. 

The de Venecia-Lim and Jaworski-Eusebio affairs are the common stuff of vote-buying. Most certainly, there are many more of such cases, published and unpublished, in the present election as there were in the many past elections.

Who Is Not?

The five modes or acts of vote-buying are “giving”, “offering”, “promising”, “making” and “causing” done “directly or indirectly”. The money, favor or any other objects of the act may actually not be given or received.  Any of the five acts may be done by the candidate or by his or her leaders or by any other interested party – group or individual.

To be candidly honest, under these premises laid down in Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, who of the candidates, their leaders and their parties are not vote-buyers? Not even President Arroyo, some of her cabinet and other top officials can convincingly say they are not.

A few candidates may have no cash to give away. But all give promises. When an incumbent running for reelection points to his accomplishments, he indirectly promises to give more if he is returned to office. There’s nothing wrong with such a promise. But under Section 261 “promising” is vote-buying.

Election propaganda is “making” or “causing” to “induce” votes for the candidate and against his or her opponent/s. Under Section 261 that is vote-buying. Why do most, if not all, candidates spend twice or more than what the law allows? What for? To buy votes!

And, the proof? Candidates with the more money to spend usually win.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales offered a P10,000-incentive to each barangay captain in Iloilo City to cause a 12-0 for the TEAM Unity senatorial candidates. Not only he has done or is doing that. “Incentive” is a common election gimmick to get votes through community leaders.

President Arroyo has created the Office of External Affairs. As reported, through the OEA, Malacañang supports pro-administration party-lists by the hundreds of thousand or millions of pesos. Under the “making” and “causing” premises of Section 261, that is vote-buying. While this has been denied, denial is more of a routine than the truth.

A very reliable media man said that President Arroyo had given Manny Pacquiao P100 million. What for? To get more votes than Rep. Darlene Antonino-Custodio in the first district of South Cotabato. From that amount, Pacquiao maintains with P2,500 each a week 19 media persons to give him good publicity. If true, isn’t that vote-buying?

Wholesale

Vote-buying and vote-selling under Section 261 is retail – just involving the buying of votes from the voters, directly or indirectly. Nowhere in Article XXII of the Omnibus Election Code – on election offenses — can be found a provision pertinent to wholesale buying of valid votes already canvassed.

Popularized as dagdag-bawas (add-subtract) after the election of 1995 by defeated senatorial candidate Aquilino Pimentel, this practice had existed before that time. Yet, lawmakers had not provided for it in the many revisions of the election code. Was it because of the very high profitability of the trade for them and their descendants?

As already very well known, candidates or their agents bid from election officials for votes to be entered in the Certificate of Canvass in order to win or, if already winning as in the case of senatorial candidates, to improve ranking. As reported, bidding this election will be at the minimum P200 per vote.

Votes may be guarded at the precinct level but it would be difficult to do so in the provincial or city level where the COCs are prepared. Actual vote figures are made or caused to change at the price of hundreds of thousand or millions of pesos.  

After the actual voting, wholesale buying nullifies the win and offsets the loss. Without money, the winner can’t keep his win. Corrupt election officials, instead of protecting, sell the votes and people’s mandate to the moneyed losers.

Paradox

What a paradox! While meant to promote clean and honest election, Section 261, if strictly enforced, will disqualify all candidates in any Philippine election. By its provisions, there is vote-buying galore in today’s election as there was in the past.

Section 261 is self-defeating. It cannot be strictly enforced because doing so will negate or invalidate the election – an election without candidates. And it addresses the retail vote-buying only, not the wholesale.

Can this be said of other sections or of the entire Code? Look seriously into the provisions on election spending, for instance. Isn’t it also a paradox? That’s another long story.

There is a vote-buying galore according to Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code. What will the Abalos Comelec do about it? Will it prevent the wholesale vote-buying? Those are what, we are sure, the Filipinos would like to see.

(“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to patpdiaz@mindanews.com).

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