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Comelec mulls ways to stop vote-buying

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07:30 PM February 15th, 2013

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February 15th, 2013 07:30 PM

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

MANILA, Philippines—An early warning to candidates: Giving away lechon or pancit to be feasted upon by voters on the eve of the elections may well be construed as vote-buying.

The Commission on Elections announced Friday it was mulling over a measure that will reduce, if not totally eradicate,  vote-buying by candidates in the May 13 elections.

But Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the election body will keep it under wraps until election day was near to avoid preempting their plan.

“This will serve as a warning on vote-buying,” Brillantes told reporters. “My colleagues here in the Comelec and I are planning something…. We are studying constitutional issues on the matter but if it pushes through, we won’t have a problem anymore with vote-buying.”

Brillantes said it was possible that the commission would issue a resolution on the matter, which would then take effect a week or so before May 13, the country’s second automated nationwide elections.

“If I reveal what it is now, our plan will be futile,” said the Comelec chief, adding that they will roll it out at least 10 days prior to election day. “Because vote-buying is really being used a few days before the elections, usually two days or on the eve of the balloting,” he added.

In the same breath, the Comelec chief reminded candidates that while “electoral propaganda gadgets” such as lighters, fans, pens, mugs, candies and umbrellas, among others, can be distributed during their campaign, giving away “something of value” can be considered vote-buying.

He defined vote-buying as giving away money or anything valuable for the purpose  of getting a vote.

Brillantes noted that giving away lighters, cigarettes, umbrellas and shirts are already allowed for campaign purposes after Republic Act No. 9006 or the Fair Elections Act repealed a provision in the Omnibus Election Code declaring as unlawful the “purchase, manufacture, request, distribution or acceptance” of electoral propaganda gadgets.

The Omnibus Election Code identified propaganda gadgets as pens, lighters, fans, flashlights, athletic goods or materials, wallets, shirts, hands, bandanas, matches, cigarettes and the like.

“These materials are no longer prohibited in the course of the campaign as long as it is freely given as a campaign material and they will reflect as part of the candidates’ expenses,” said Brillantes. “But if you use that close to the elections, we can classify it as vote-buying.”

The Comelec chief also cited giving away food, such as lechon or pancit, to voters on the eve of the elections as something that could fall under vote-buying. “Why would you send lechon or pancit to the public?” he asked.

He said it has been difficult for the Comelec to really go after candidates engaging in vote-buying. “That’s why up to now, no one has been jailed for it… but I will send someone soon, as long as there is evidence,” warned Brillantes.

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