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Vote-buying mars midterm elections

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Sunday reminded voters in Monday’s midterm elections to fully shade the ovals on their ballots, not to overvote and not to take selfies with their accomplished ballots inside polling precincts.

But it belatedly advised them not to accept money from politicians, only after the Inquirer sought it out for comment on President Rodrigo Duterte’s criticism of its “unrealistic” regulations.

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In a campaign speech in Davao City on Friday night, the President criticized the Comelec’s prohibiting politicians from giving away money or anything of value, even promises of employment after the elections, during the campaign.

The prohibition is found in Section 261, Article XXII, of the Omnibus Election Code, enforced by the Comelec with help from law enforcement agencies.

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Small amount is OK?

The President acknowledged the prohibition, but he said people could accept a small amount to pay their fare home.

“Tell them if you don’t take the money you will have to roam San Pedro [Street] offering yourself there [for sale], before you could go home,” the said.

The Comelec intensified a campaign against vote-buying in the run-up to Monday’s vote, launching last week “Task Force Kontra Bigay” with the Philippine National Police, Department of the Interior and Local Government and Integrated Bar of the Philippines to expedite the investigation of vote-buying cases and the prosecution of offenders.

But it was silent on Sunday after publication of the President’s comments.

When reached by the Inquirer for comment on Sunday night, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said: “Many say that. I think the PNP chief also said take the cash, take the money. Again these are personal opinions. But as far as the Comelec is concerned, do not take anything from politicians. Do not accept money from them.”

Malacañang defended the President’s remarks, with presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo saying accepting a small amount, say P50 to go home after voting, was all right.

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“Definitely, it’s against the law,” Panelo said in a radio interview. “But the President was saying last night that, if you’re only being given fare, that’s OK. It’s fare because you went to a far place. If you don’t have money, and it’s only P50 for your fare, that’s OK with him.”

The Palace, however, urged people to vote “according to their conscience,” choosing candidates who deserve to be elected.

The Catholic Church, too, called on the people to reject money or food offered by politicians.

“A kilo of rice or a few [tins of] sardines or any amount of money [can never equal the value of] your vote,” Legazpi Bishop Joel Baylon said.

“Vote not [for] someone [who] will give you something that won’t even last long, but someone who will bring our community into what’s better,” Baylon said in a pastoral message read during Sunday Mass in 45 churches in Albay province.

Scores arrested

The police have arrested scores of people for buying and selling votes across the country in the run-up to Monday’s elections.

Metropolitan police arrested 84 people in Makati City, 17 in Muntinlupa City, six in Quezon City, and one in Malabon on Saturday night.

In Makati City, eight people, including barangay officials, were arrested for buying votes right inside the San Isidro barangay hall along Marconi Street.

Fifty-two residents of the barangay were arrested for selling their votes.

Police confiscated 820 P500 notes and two boxes containing campaign leaflets of a mayoral candidate.

They also found a list of voters with their addresses, polling precinct numbers, and the barangay official who referred them to the candidate.

Police Maj. Gen. Guillermo Eleazar, the metropolitan police commander, said vote-buying and selling was clandestinely carried out inside the barangay hall.

Business in the dark

“They’ll [turn off] the lights [in] the barangay hall and when there’s a number of people inside, they’ll lock it up and start buying the votes of the residents inside,” Eleazar said.

He said the suspects claimed they were paying the salaries of cleaners, but he did not believe them.

“Why do you pay your workers this late at night? Why do you need to turn off the lights. And why are names crossed out on the list if they are not residents of the barangay? There is something fishy here,” Eleazar said.

He said the suspects would be charged with violating the Omnibus Election Code.

Eleazar said 186 people were also arrested in Metro Manila for violation of the 48-hour ban on liquor, which started at 12:01 a.m. on Sunday.

Rampant vote-buying

Vote-buying was rampant in Southern Luzon, with reports of P50 to P500 notes stapled to sample ballots with the names of candidates for congressman, governor and mayor being given to voters in San Fernando town on Sibuyan Island.

“They bring it to houses through [the candidates’] distributor leaders,” a resident of the town said on Sunday.

In Laguna province, a resident of Bay reported receiving P500 placed in a brown envelope with a sample ballot.

A resident of Los Baños reported that “thousands” gathered inside a private school owned to be paid for their votes by a candidate for congressman in the second district of Laguna on Saturday night.

“They locked down the school,” the resident said.

Police Col. Eleazar Matta, the provincial police director, said police had heard of vote-buying in the province, but no one had come forward to file a complaint.

He said two people were arrested in Santa Cruz town for vote-buying around noon on Sunday.

In Gloria, Oriental Mindoro, police reported the arrest on Saturday night of five armed men for vote-buying.

In Cavite, provincial election chief Arnulfo Pioquinto cited the lack of complainants as a problem in combating vote-buying there.

In Bataan province, voters in Limay town said they had been reporting vote-buying to police, but no complaints had been filed.

But in Isabela province, police arrested two men who allegedly gave a voter P300 to vote for a mayoral candidate in Gamu town.

In the Bicol region, police arrested two men for vote-buying on Saturday morning.

Found on one of the suspects was a list of voters, campaign materials, including sample ballots, and P26,000 in cash.

Confiscated from the other suspect were nine envelopes with sample ballots and P15,300 in cash.

In Western Visayas, Police Brig. Gen. John Bulalacao, the regional police commander, said on Sunday that reports of vote-buying were coming from “almost all municipalities of Iloilo” province.

Iloilo has 42 towns and one city.

Bulalacao, however, reported the arrest of only seven people in Iloilo for vote-buying and selling.

In Eastern Visayas, politicians were reportedly offering P20 to P5,000 for votes.—Reports from Tina G. Santos, Dexter Cabalza, Julie M. Aurelio, Jeannette I. Andrade, Mar S. Arguelles, Madonna Virola, Maricar Cinco, Ma. April Mier-Manjares, Tonette Orejas, Armand Galang, Joanna Rose Aglibot, Greg Refraccion, Leilanie Adriano, Gabriel Cardinoza, Yolanda Sotelo, Villamor Visaya Jr., Vincent Cabreza, Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Joey Gabieta, Leo Udtohan, Dale Israel, Williamor Magbanua, Richel Umel, Jigger Jerusalem, Julie Alipala, Divina M. Suson, Bong Sarmiento and Mariejo S. Ramos

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TAGS: 2019 elections, Comelec, vote-buying
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