BUYING and selling are regular functions of business. They become criminal during elections. Vote-buying and vote-selling are considered election offenses enumerated under Article XXII, Section 261(a) (1) and (2) of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC).
The law defines vote-buying as involving “any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value; gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private; or makes or offers to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause 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.”
Vote-selling, on the other hand, is defined as “any person, association, corporation, group or community, who solicits or receives, directly or indirectly, any expenditure or promise of any office or employment, public or private, for any of the above said considerations.”
Vote-buying and vote-selling are punishable under Sections 263 and 264 of the OEC.
Any person found guilty of vote-selling and vote-buying and other election offenses may be meted imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years.
The law also imposes disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage against the guilty party.
If the guilty party is a foreigner, he or she shall be deported, which will be effective after the prison term has been served.
On the other hand, any political party found guilty shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than P10,000.
Despite the law’s clarity, however, the crimes of both the buying and selling of votes remain rampant.
SINCE elections occur irregularly, the crimes of vote-buying and vote-selling are considered non-index crimes.
Index crimes are crimes against persons and property. Government statisticians define such crimes as those “sufficiently significant and occur with sufficient regularity to be meaningful.” Included in this category are the following crimes: murder, physical injury, robbery, theft and rape, according to the National Statistical Coordination Board.
Nonindex crimes, on the other hand, include special laws and all reckless imprudence, and cases that result in homicide, physical injury and damage to property.
Based on figures provided by the Philippine National Police (PNP), the country recorded a total of 149,616 crime incidents during the first quarter of the year, or from January to March 2016.
Of the crime volume, 38,632 incidents (26 percent) were categorized by the PNP as index crimes, and 110,984 incidents (74 percent) as nonindex crimes.
Breaking the crime volume figures by month, January posted a total of 52,910 incidents, while the PNP recorded 47,923 cases in the month of February. The PNP recorded 48,783 cases in March, citing it as the month with the second-highest number of incidents recorded.
The first-quarter report can be considered as a preelection figure, since it was culled during the months leading to next week’s presidential elections.
The crime volume was based on the blotters of the PNP around the country. There may be crimes that go unreported or not recorded.
One of these is vote-buying; another is vote-selling.
FLORINDA, not her real name, is a 65-year-old housewife, a resident of Manila and a registered voter.
She had just sold her vote for the coming elections, at least for the mayoral post.
Two weeks ago, Florinda told the BusinessMirror she and several other neighbors were chosen to attend a gathering arranged by a mayoralty candidate.
During the assembly, the candidate each handed them P5,000, purportedly as “tulong pangkabuhayan [livelihood assistance].”
When asked if she would vote the candidate because he gave her money, Florida laughed nervously and said she would.
“Oo naman, baka bawiin [Yes, because he may ask me to return the money].”
In Makati a resident said some “barangay kagawad [councilors]” have been tasked to go “house-to-house,” and select one member of the family to attend meetings, campaign rallies or talks arranged by the camp of a well-known mayoralty candidate. They were given P2,500.
The Makati City resident, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, said a total of P7,500 was raised by the family because of these.
The last tranche, P2,500, was given in a house the candidate’s head coordinator told them to go to. That was where the cash, equivalent to $52.90, was given to those who obeyed the coordinator’s order.
The person told the BusinessMirror barangay chieftains are the ones managing the distribution of cash.
“Siyempre sinasabihan kami na secret lang iyon [Of course, they told us to keep these transactions a secret],” the person added.
According to the OEC, such act smacks of a conspiracy to bribe voters. Such crime occurs when two or more persons, whether candidates or not, who come to an agreement concerning the commission of any violation of Paragraph (a) “[vote-buying] of this section and decide to commit it.”
The resident said the vote-buyer would be voted because “we always vote for them. “Yes, parati naman naming binoboto sila.”
WHILE the crime volume can be considered high, the PNP considers the January-to-March figures as already low when measured against the ideal policeman-community ratio of 1:500—for every 500 Filipinos, there should be one policeman looking after them.
“The average monthly crime rate posted at 48.24 percent per 100,000 [Filipinos] and the average monthly index crime rate is at 12.45 percent per 100,000,” the report by the PNP said.
High as it is, the monthly crime volume, however, was on a downtrend, according to the PNP. The authorities attribute the downtrend “to the serious campaign and other law-enforcement measures it has implemented, such as the ‘Oplan Lambat-Sibat’ and the nationwide gun ban.”
The Lambat-Sibat was an anti-criminality campaign that even included the accounting of wanted persons. Such accounting was performed by the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group, and implemented via the implementation of outstanding warrants of arrest.
The gun ban, ordered by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and applied in January, was implemented through various police checkpoints around the country.
The PNP said it sees the institution’s crime-solution efficiency as improving citing the first-quarter figures as basis.
“The total index crimes recorded for the first quarter were 38,632,” the PNP report read. “Improvement was observed on index crime-clearance efficiency, with 43.85 percent; and index crime-solution efficiency, with 32.53 percent.”
Among other things, the PNP noted that for the first three months of 2016, “all index crimes showed a downward trend, except for homicide and rape,” when compared to the same period last year.
Theft is the most prevalent index crime, with a total of 14,948, immediately followed by physical injury, with 9,237; and robbery, with 6,433, the report read.
“The top 3 most prevalent index crimes showed a downward trend, posting the highest in January, and March as the lowest,” it added.
What is surprising, according to the same statistics of the PNP, was that most of the incidents recorded, or a majority of cases in the crime volume, were nonindex crimes.
The crimes in the Philippines are composed mainly of nonindex crimes, with 110,984 incidents, or 74 percent of the total crime volume, according to the report.
Of this number, 61,703 cases, or 56 percent, were caused by traffic incidents (reckless imprudence resulting in homicide, physical injury and damage to property); 31,059 incidents, or 28 percent, were violations of special laws; and 18,222 cases, or 16 percent, were other nonindex crimes.
IN Caibiran, a municipality in Biliran province, vote-buying allegedly comes in the guise of emergency shelter assistance (ESA). The ESA was supposed to be given to the residents affected by Supertyphoon Yolanda in 2013.
Several residents claimed they have received their ESA between April 1 and 4 at the Municipal Treasurer’s Office amounting to either P30,000 or P10,000 each, depending on whether their house is partially or totally damaged.
They have filed a complaint with the Comelec office in Biliran against Municipal Mayor Eulalio Maderazo, the municipal treasurer and municipal social welfare and development officials.
They said these officials should be held liable for violation of Section 261 (v)(3) of the OEC, which prohibits the release, disbursement or expenditure of public funds within 45 days before a regular election.
Meanwhile, a Manila barangay councilor claimed their village chieftain invited him and his fellow barangay kagawad to a gathering in a province in the North. The gathering was allegedly sponsored by a vice-presidential candidate.
The councilor said they were given P3,000 prior to their trip and an additional P2,000 during the assembly.
Despite existing laws that prohibit and penalize vote-buying, Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez admitted that the illegal act has become widespread under the Automated Election System (AES) compared at the time, when the country was still under the manual-voting process.
He said the Comelec has been receiving numerous complaints of vote-buying in various areas in the country over the past weeks.
“Absolutely, [vote-buying has become rampant],” Jimenez said. “In fact, isa iyan sa unintended consequences of automation.”
He explained this became so, as politicians became unable to affect the numbers.
“Nakita natin dahil ’yung mga politiko di na nila kayang apektuhan ’yung bilang at yung pag re-record ng mga resulta kaya nagpo-focus sila ng attention dun sa mga botante bago bumoto,” Jimenez said. “And ang paraan niyan eh, through vote-buying.”
NATIONAL Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) Secretary-General Eric Alvia shares Jimenez’s observation.
Alvia said, based on the amount of campaign contributions that each of the candidates are getting and their “unexplained” expenses, it seems vote-buying has become prevalent.
Alvia said under the automation, vote-buyers have shifted their focus to the frontline or the voters from the tail end or the canvassers.
“Dati sa canvassing area [only],” he said. “Ngayon since automated na, ang hinihikayat na nila at binabayaran na nila eh ’yung mga voters.”
While other election frauds have been eradicated under the AES, such as the so-called dagdag-bawas scheme, vote-buying, sadly, is here to stay, veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said.
“’Yung vote-buying, kahit na manual, kahit na automated, nandiyan yan.”
Macalintal pointed out that the price of buying a vote has considerably increased because of peso devaluation and the increase in the prices of the basic needs of the people.
“The style, the system is still there. They will hire voters as their runners, trainers or poll watchers in exchange of money so it will not be obvious that they are buying their votes,” Macalintal said.
CAN vote-buying affect the outcome of the election results this coming May 9 elections? Certainly it will, according to Alvia.
Alvia noted that based on several surveys, at least 15 percent of the voters are still undecided as who to vote for in the coming national and local elections.
He said these money being offered in exchange of votes are likely to influence these undecided voters in deciding the candidates they will support.
Lawyer Glenn Chong of the Reform Philippines Coalition, a group advocating clean elections, said vote-buying might influence results for the local elections, but unlikely for the national level.
“It’s more rampant in the local than in the national level because candidates for national posts cascade their resources down to the local candidates supporting their bid.
For his part, Macalintal said vote-buying will be a factor both in the local and national elections.
He said the illegal practice is likely to influence the so-called undecided voters.
“Halimbawa, kung may mga taong nagpapabili ng kanilang boto at walang pagpapahalaga sa kanilang boto at sila ay tinatawag na undecided, talagang maaring magkaroon ng epekto ’yan lalung-lalo na kapag dikitan ang halalan,” Macalintal warned.
In the local scene, Macalintal said vote-buying is a real threat to the right of the people to suffrage considering that there are candidates running neck and neck.
“Sa local talagang mabigat ’yang vote-buying dahil ang lamangan diyan ay minsan ay isang libo lamang o kaya isang daan,” Macalintal pointed out.
But Jimenez is confident that vote-buying will not influence the outcome of the elections.
He explained that vote-buying is really retail and cannot be considered as a factor in determining the results of the elections.
“If at all, maybe you can feel it sa local races but, nationwide, it is not that efficient, that’s why even before automation the preferred mode of cheating is wholesale through dagdag-bawas. But now, since they can no longer do the whosesale, they are back doing the retail, which is vote-buying,” Jimenez said.
ASIDE from vote-buying, another threat to peaceful and orderly elections is the juice that would power the machines to be used by the automated polls.
On May 4 a transmission tower, which took almost three months to repair due to right-of-way (ROW) issues with landowners, was again bombed, the National Grid Corp. of the Philippines (NGCP) said. This is the sixth bombing of NGCP towers this year. This tower, to note, was already attacked in December last year.
Nonetheless, NGCP assured the power grid is “election-ready.”
“Before the coming national and local elections, grid operator NGCP started to implement its contingency plan to ensure that the country’s power-transmission network is geared up for the nationwide polls,” the company said in a statement.
The company added it has been in close coordination with the Department of Energy (DOE) as early as February this year to monitor the power outlook on the day of the elections.
NGCP added it is aligning efforts with the DOE and the rest of the power industry to ensure a blackout-free May elections.
“As system operator, NGCP is closely coordinating with generators to ensure sufficient power supply and reserves,” it added. “The continuous flow of electricity from generators to distributors through the power grid facilities will benefit customers who depend of these power services.”
“NGCP has also been preparing its facilities and deploying its resources to be responsive to any incident that may affect transmission services during the election period.”
NGCP is a privately owned corporation in charge of operating, maintaining and developing the country’s power grid. It transmits high-voltage electricity through “power superhighways” that include the interconnected system of transmission lines, towers, substations and related assets. The consortium, which holds the 25-year concession contract to operate the country’s power-transmission network, is comprised of Monte Oro Grid Resources Corp., led by Henry Sy Jr.; Calaca High Power Corp. led by Robert Coyiuto Jr.; and the State Grid Corp. of China (SGCC) as technical partner.
“Some of the contingency measures put in place were the suspension of line and equipment maintenance and testing activities two weeks before and one week after election day to make sure that all facilities are online and available from casting to counting of the votes,” NGCP said. “In case of power interruption, the grid operator will be ready to deploy its strategically placed aircraft, emergency-restoration structures, and spare parts for faster line inspection and restoration.”
ACCORDING to NGCP, it will also activate its Overall Command and Control Center in its headquarters, regional and district offices 24/7 a day before and after the elections.
These command and control centers will also serve as the energy sector’s main monitoring and information centers.
On the issue of right-of-way, which has been a major problem for the company in recent months, NGCP said it is expediting its right-of-way clearing operations.”
“We want our lines to be cleared of illegally planted trees before the elections for more reliable transmission service,” the company said. “We are doing this with Comelec Resolution 10067 as legal cover and assistance from the PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines and local government units.”
The company also recently conducted its annual Table-top Blackout Drill to simulate blackout scenarios, and review its protocols and procedures during such cases.
“This is done on a yearly basis in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao with other power industry stakeholders to reiterate roles and responsibilities during a grid-wide power interruption. This year we give special focus on the elections because transmission service is crucial in the conduct of clean and peaceful elections,” NGCP said.
UNLESS we address the root cause of the problem, which is poverty, vote-buying will continue to be a threat to the country’s election process.
Alvia attributed the problem of vote-buying to the “inconveniences” being experienced by the people.
“Election should be free and fair but it’s not really happening because people, particularly voters are not free to choose,” Alvia said. “As long as there is poverty, there will be vote-buying.”
A lot of these politicians, according to Alvia, are aware of the condition of their constituents and they take advantage of their circumstances.
“’Pag kumakalam na ang sikmura mo at mag-dangle ng P500 sa ’yo di mo pa ba kukuhain ’yan?” he asked.
Chong agreed with Alvia, noting that there is a clear connection between poverty and vote-buying.
“Wala nang pakialam ang ibang mga botante kung sinu dapat iboto at hindi. Ang nasa isip lang nila eh kumakalam ang sikmura nila,” he explained.
This is also the reason it is difficult to catch, prosecute and convict vote-buyers and vote-sellers, according to Chong.
“In most cases they are [the buyer and the seller] willing partners in crime,” Chong said.
ALVIA, however, sees that the problem also lies in the implementation of the law.
He said the Comelec should be more aggressive in enforcing the law by deputizing law enforcers to go after vote-buyers like what it did in its drive to remove illegal campaign posters and paraphernalia.
“They should deploy people, kung saan may congregation, it’s possible that a crime of vote-buying is happening,” Alvia said.
“We need enforcement action and imposition of corresponding punishment,” he assed.
For the long-term solution, Alvia said voters should be educated about the evils of vote-buying and other election frauds through more systematic modules for schools.
Jimenez, however, viewed it differently, saying that having all the laws against vote-buying does not guarantee its eradication.
“You know you can have all the laws in the world and it cannot discourage cheaters. Cheaters will always try to find a way to cheat, that is the problem. But, the quesiton is, ‘Do we have what it takes now to prevent them from succeeding?”’ Jimenez pointed.
Jimenez said that, through vigilance of the people, the media and those engaged in the so-called social media, the problem of vote-buying may soon find its end.
“So if we cast enough lights on these efforts, eventually, malulusaw din ’yan. So, iyon ang panlaban natin sa vote-buying ngayon,” he said.
On the other hand, Macalintal described the OEC as a “beautifully crafted” law.
But he said the problem is “it’s not being fully implemented since very few have been prosecuted or convicted for vote-buying.”
“I think in the entire world we have the best election laws, pero ang problema lang ’yung implementation, ang laging problem lang sa ating batas ’yung implementation,” Macalintal said. “Hanggang ngayon wala pa tayong narining na isang botante ay na convict of vote-buying, walang nahuhuli, so palagay ko ang problema lang eh sa implementation.
“But, as far as laws are concerned, we have all the laws,” he added. “And almost every election period we keep on amending the laws.”
Image credits: AP