Disorder, money rule village polls, says advocacy group

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/29 October) – Disorder and money politics marked the conduct of the barangay elections on Monday and on events that happened during the campaign, an advocacy group said.

“Generally the polls showed a lot of disorder,” Emma Molina, chair of Barog Bukidnon said, citing the perennial problem of missing names of voters and vote-buying.

Molina said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) only based its assessment that the polls were generally peaceful on “reports of no untoward incidents.”

She said it is unacceptable for Comelec officials to treat as normal the scenario of voters who could not find their names on the list on election day. “They have to find ways and means to ensure this won’t happen again.”

She said the problem was causing a lot of trouble for affected voters, some of whom ended up not being able to vote.

Molina also said money politics was evident in the run-up to the elections and on election day itself.

She cited the sight of drinking sprees along the city streets during the last days of the campaign. “It’s just anywhere. Only God knows where this will lead us.”

She said candidates for village council gave P20-50 per voter while aspirants for village chair shelled out P50-200 per voter.

Candidates did not limit their handouts to cash. Some gave non-cash incentives like free rides to polling places, free breakfast, free accident insurance cards, noodles, and in many barangays, matchboxes pasted with names of candidates.

Those who did not give cash gave freebies instead. For instance, a candidate for barangay council offered “free entrance” to the family-owned swimming pool, and issued a card per household good for five persons and valid only for two weeks.

Supporters of a candidate who handed P50 bills to voters said the money was for snacks on election day.

Some voters were delighted to see that aside from cash, a candidate for village council supplied their precinct number.

“Good that we don’t need to look for it,” a resident of Barangay Kalasungay in Malaybalay City told MindaNews on Monday.

Supporters of some candidates in Valencia City were reported to have put up assistance desks near polling places to help voters find their precincts. They jotted down the precinct numbers on a sample ballot or a piece of paper printed with the names of some candidates.

A candidate who vied for the village council in Barangay 7 in Malaybalay City said it is difficult to run for a village post because the voters are just in your neighborhood.

“You will be forced to shell out money even if you just walk by a corner where bystanders take rest over some refreshments,” he said.

He said he had P2,000 one day and it was used up even before dusk. He said he avoided walking around those neighborhoods simply because he has no money.

“I felt awkward campaigning where everybody gives anything and I don’t. I just think of the things I did in my last term and what more I can do if I win again,” he added.

The incumbent candidates, he added, have the advantage but still need to give out some cash. “If you don’t, you might be surprised your votes already went to those whom voters think are more generous.”

He added that some candidates for village chiefs also received funding support from local officials.

Molina said that what is worse is that it’s no longer just a case of the politicians using money to lure votes. “It’s the voters who demand for it. They are the ones looking for the candidates who offer ‘ulan-ulan’ (a euphemism for cash offered in exchange for votes).”

Molina said this is one reason why the problem will be here to stay unless earthshaking change happens.

She said the voters no longer ask about a politician’s platform. “They look for the immediate gift.”

As observed, most campaign materials did not contain the advocacies or platforms of the candidates, just their names and the positions aspired for.

“For these voters, the candidates forum or the miting de avance, opportunities to hear the platforms of candidates, became a waste of time,” Molina said.

In Kalasungay, a village of 3, 645 registered voters, more people flocked to where breakfast was served and gifts were distributed by supporters of rival candidates for village chief on election day than the miting de avance on Saturday night.

A total of 3,045 or 83.5 percent of the voters actually cast their votes in the village.

Molina noted that candidates and supporters were creative and resourceful, and even conducted surveys and research on voters’ data before handing out cash and non-cash incentives.

She, however, stressed that even if poverty continues to influence such behavior on the part of voters there is still hope for change. “There are still people who stand and continue to choose candidates based on character, performance and platform.”

She said advocates for good governance must look into the change needed at the village level.

“This is one area where a lot should be done, where a lot should be initiated,” she added.

She said that although this has become cliché, there is still no alternative venue for forming values other than the family.

“Really, only God knows how this will work,” she said. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)