Votes for sale: From P100 to P3,500 per person

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How much is a Filipino’s vote worth these days?

According to the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), candidates are offering up to P3,500 for a single vote in Ilocos Norte, P3,000 in neighboring Ilocos Sur, P2,000 in Zamboanga Sibugay, and P100 in Tawi-Tawi.

In a letter sent to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Thursday, Namfrel chair Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo said reports from the group’s volunteers showed that vote-buying—either with cash, groceries, and even farm implements—is expected to intensify as Election Day nears, with some candidates even resorting to “bidding” to corner votes.

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr.’s advice to voters: Take the money and junk the candidates.

“Take it but junk those who give you money. That’s the only way to do it so that the next time these people will not give away money because they know they will lose,” Brillantes said in an interview on Friday.

The Comelec tried to fight vote-buying by prohibiting bank withdrawals in excess of P100,000 and carrying cash worth more than P500,000, but President Benigno Aquino III rejected the strategy on Thursday, saying it was bad for the economy, and the Supreme Court, acting on a petition brought by bankers, stopped it on Friday and called for oral arguments.

Brillantes said vote-buying had become more rampant because politicians had fewer means to “manipulate” the vote after the automation of elections in 2010.

Voters expect money

He said the Comelec might ask Congress later to pass legislation that would authorize the election watchdog to impose a “money ban” during elections to prevent vote-buying.

Bernardo said that while many voters expect to be given cash, she said people in one “conservative” community in Tawi-Tawi do return the money if they eventually do not vote for the candidates who gave them cash.

“People themselves expect money to be given to them, causing some parties to engage in a kind of ‘bidding,’ and enticing voters with higher amounts,” Bernardo said, quoting a report from Albay province.

“Vote-buying is expected to be more pervasive one to two days before the voting,” Bernardo said.

And the amounts the candidates are giving away are expected to increase as the actual balloting nears, she said.

Sample ballots are now being distributed along with P100, she added.

 

Church protests

In Cagayan province, the bailiwick of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, candidates are reportedly offering P1,000 to P5,000 for votes, according to Catholic priest Robert Reyes.

Money is believed to flow at meetings to which politicians running for office herd village officials, what Reyes called the “dirty” and “ugly” face of politics in the province.

The Catholic Church is leading the fight against vote-buying in Cagayan, mounting today a two-day campaign for the rejection of money politics.

“On May 11 and 12, the people of Cagayan will flex their physical and moral muscles for a vigorous and final push for deep and genuine change through the electoral process,” said Reyes, who will join residents of the province in running and biking while calling on the public to protect the sanctity of the ballot against money politics.

 

Leni Robredo complains

In Naga City, congressional candidate Leni Robredo, widow of Interior Secretary Jesse Robredo, filed disqualification charges on Friday against her rival, Nelly Villafuerte, and her husband, Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte, for alleged vote-buying.

In her complaint filed in the Comelec regional office in Naga, Robredo alleged that Representative Villafuerte gave voters money to convince them to vote for his wife, an act that she said violated the provisions of the election code on vote-buying.

Robredo submitted to the Comelec videos of the alleged vote-buying to support her charges against the Villafuertes.

Common

She asked the Comelec to disqualify the Villafuertes from the election and exclude their names from the canvassing of votes.

The Inquirer tried but failed yesterday to reach the Villafuertes for comment.

In her letter to the Comelec, Bernardo said that vote-buying had become so common that it is considered a more pressing issue by voters compared to questions about the credibility of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.

Bernardo said some voters willingly give their names to the barangay leaders, “who also possess copies of the computerized voter list, to make sure that they will receive money.”

“Candidates normally say that their money came from sponsors or from friends, although some suspect the money came from government funds,” she saidd.

Bernardo said that Namfrel volunteers in Albay asked voters if they had been offered money for their votes and 60 percent answered in the affirmative. All of those surveyed reported that they had heard instances of vote-buying.

“In the municipality of Daraga, amounts range from P100 to P500 per voter and a sample ballot is usually stapled to the money,” Bernardo said.

Opposition vote-buying

“In one municipality, it is the opposition who engages in vote-buying. Voters are given P100 each. In some places, candidates for councilor give money only to enough number of voters that could ensure them a seat,” she said.

“They also use the list of voters and go from house to house. Money is put in an envelope, which bears the name of the candidate they are supposed to vote for,” she said.

Bernardo said that in Agusan del Norte and Agusan del Sur, vote-buying is done through politicians and ward leaders.

In Aurora province, voters are enticed with money “as high as P1,200” to vote for “candidates [who belong to] a political dynasty,” Bernardo said.

“Incumbents are employing a large number of coordinators in the barangay; and jobs, reportedly intended to entice voters, financed by the municipal and provincial government, have been handed out,” she said.

“(In) Abra, Albay, Antique, Eastern Samar, Mountain Province, Ilocos Norte and Lanao del Norte, they expect vote-buying to be more rampant as voting day draws closer,” Bernardo said.

House-to-house buying

Bernardo said those buying votes in Cagayan go house to house and pay as much as P1,000 to P1,500 per person while groceries and other goods are given during campaign rallies.

She said groceries were also distributed in Eastern Samar, Rizal, Surigao del Sur and Negros Oriental, and reported that vote-buying was also rampant in Guimaras.

“Either no one reports it or no one ever gets caught when these are reported to the police,” Bernardo said.

In Ilocos Norte, three candidates from a political party went house to house and each of them gave away P300 per voter, she said.

“(People) who (bought) from a store [all paid with] P200 bills. When queried why they were all buying with P200 bills, (they) replied that it was given to them by someone,” Bernardo said.

 

Signed receipts

She said money was being distributed “along with a sample ballot” and the recipients were being asked “to sign a receipt so that the candidate could trace if their coordinators indeed distributed the money.”

“Sometimes coordinators force people to accept the money,” she said. “The highest amount given to voters by a mayoral candidate is P3,000.”

In Ilocos Sur, barangay captains are usually tasked to distribute the money, although members of the Sangguniang Kabataan are also involved. Bernardo said P1,000 to P3,500 are being offered for votes in a mayoral race.

In Malabon, voters are offered free entrance to a swimming pool, while candidates in Manila give away sidecars, Bernardo said.

“Police would not reprimand sidecar operators that have tarpaulins and other election propaganda materials. Canned goods and rice are also handed out to voters,” she said. With reports from Melvin Gascon, Inquirer Northern Luzon; Juan Escandor Jr., Inquirer Southern Luzon

 

 First posted 8:17 pm | Friday, May 10th, 2013

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