imyeyes-banner-sqIn My EyesBy Edward B. Antonio

Vote buying, PH style

A seasoned politician admitted that politics is a very dirty game.

I couldn’t help but to agree, fellas.

I learned this many years ago while taking up my major subjects in Social Studies.

Another politician said: “The secrets of winning are relatives, friendship and money.”

How about performance?

“Performance is a good factor but not all electorates look at performance. Many electorates are corrupt, too,” he said.

Votes for sale, anyone?

Vote-buying is an open secret during election periods, but it is one among the hardest election offenses to prove.

I yet have to see a candidate jailed for vote buying, fellas. Corrupt electorates would not admit being paid, for they too, will be indicted. In 2013, Wilma (not her real name) said she received P2,000 from the alipores of Mayor candidate No. 1 and another P2,000 from the alipores of Mayor candidate No. 2.

“So you received P4,000 eh. You’re a sort of balimbing. What will you spend that with?”

“A new android phone,” she said. “Pakalaglagipan.”

My research reveals:

Although it comes in different forms, vote-buying in the Philippines has been rather consistent in terms of methods. Here are some observable patterns:

1. It is systematic. The candidates themselves do not do the actual vote buying. Instead they have coordinators working in the barangay and purok levels who do the dirty work for them.

2. No amount is ever too small or too big. In a documented case in Cagayan de Oro, vote-buying goes for as low as P1,000 per head. Meanwhile, in Samar, one of the country’s poorest provinces, rates could go as high as P5,000 to P7,000.

3. It happened even after poll automation. One might think that the country’s transition to an automated election would eliminate vote-buying. The truth, however, is far from that.

How does vote-buying work, fellas?

Hindi lantaran (Not openly),” said Fr. Leonardo Tan of the poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).

Rappler says that the PPCRV has observed the following modus operandi across provinces:

Candidates hire people to do the vote-buying for them. They are called “leaders.” Leaders have their respective turfs (i.e., barangays, streets) where they conduct surveys to see if voters support their candidate. If not, prices of votes go up. Leaders recruit families, in which parents act as “sub-leaders.” They recruit their children of voting age. Block voting happens within the family.

Each family member receives around P500 to P5,000, but rates vary. Leaders also connive with some election officers.

“Some families go for whoever is the highest bidder,” said Tan.

Just imagine how much money candidates must shell out to win.

“That’s where corruption comes in because they have to get back what they spent,” Tan added.

How do leaders verify if their recruits actually voted for the candidate?

After the election, they make a tally: How many households in the area accepted money and how many voters actually voted for the candidate. If there’s a mismatch, threats are made, including less political favors or cutting off water or electricity. The system works similarly to a networking scheme, where the “leaders” get the biggest slice of the cake.

Before polls were automated, another way to verify votes was to place carbon paper under ballots. The voters had to bring these copies to the leaders to get paid. Money transactions usually happen one or two weeks before the election or on the day itself. Prior to that, other forms of vote-buying include:

1. Giving away of rice, groceries, gadgets, or other things of value.

2. Providing or promising jobs (short-term contracts lasting from 15 to 30 days), promotions, scholarships, infrastructure projects in exchange for votes.

“If I win, I will build a water system and roads. If I don’t win, none,” said Tan, describing candidates’ promises.

Aside from bribing people to vote for a certain candidate, they may also be paid to not vote at all. Another method is to have ballots “pre-marked,” rendering them invalid.

In Siquijor, locals always look forward to May not only because of at least 3 fiestas they celebrate and host but also because of money. Some of them come home to sell their votes, claimed Tan. By morning, money is distributed among precincts.

So, how should good-hearted citizens counter vote-buying?

“Campaign against vote-buying should start early,” said Tan, urging parents to also teach their children. “You enjoy the money you receive for a day but for the next 3 or 6 years, you will suffer.”

Some vote buyers, however, are less sly in hiding vote-buying. Vote-buying, the PPCRV said, is practiced by candidates seeking both national and local posts. They observed that families from brackets D and E are mostly the ones selling votes.

But such is not always the case.

“Vote-selling is not only a domain of the lower income class,” argued Eric Alvia of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel). Vote-buying, Namfrel stressed, also happens among religious groups or sects, socio-civic organizations, businesses, and interest groups who are after concessions and license agreements. With the introduction of technology, modes of payment have also changed which include use of cellphone loads, mobile money transfers and gift checks.

“As long as there’s poverty, it’s hard to remove vote-buying,” said PPCRV founder Henrietta De Villa.

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.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, vote-buying and vote-selling are election offenses. Violators may be imprisoned for 1 to 6 years and disqualified from holding public office. The problem, however, lies in the absence of teeth in our laws, poll watchdogs lament. The event is so rampant that many Filipinos have become indifferent to it, advocates say.

So what should be the role of the Comelec, fellas?

Mang Maing suggests: “The Comelec should be equipped with police powers to control vote buying. It should also have a special court to prosecute election-related offenses.”

 Mayor Edgar “Plong” Rapanut of Sta. Catalina, Ilocos Sur said: “I still have not lost my trust in my town mates and in the Filipino people that someday, there will come a time that the only basis for getting the electorates’ votes is performance.”

But when will this time come?

“When poverty shall have been eliminated and when the Comelec shall have learned to apply its teeth,” Mang Maing said.

“Amen,” I replied.