MANILA, Philippines — Witnesses of vote-buying practices should be “bold enough to stand up and defend their story” so that offenders are prosecuted, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) official said Saturday.
“My message to those who already have complaints, yung mga nagme-message sa aming Facebook page and sa email [those who are messaging our Facebook page and email], if they are bold enough to tell us their story, they should also be bold enough to stand up and defend their story,” Comelec Commissioner Aimee Ferolino said in a press conference.
Ferolino heads Comelec’s anti-vote-buying task force.
“Kasi kailangan namin sila to go against these people. Yung first part, nagawa na nila: yung isumbong. Pero kailangan namin sila until matapos yung kaso na posibleng i-file. Kasi sayang lang yung pagreklamo nila pag di nila itutuloy-tuloy,” she added.
(Because we need them to go against these people. They were already able to do the first step: to complain. But we need them to finish the case that will possibly be filed. Because it will be a waste if they don’t push through until the end.)
She pointed out that the Comelec is pursuing these complaints together with the Philippine National Police, the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), as well as election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente).
“We have the PNP, people who will protect them. Sana ‘wag silang matakot [I hope they won’t be afraid],” Ferolino went on.
She said voters who complain to the poll body through Facebook about a vote-buying incident do not usually follow through with their complaints.
“Yung mga reports na natanggap sa Facebook messages namin are minsan talaga they’re not, hindi naman talaga parang pursigido for the prosecution, parang naghinga lang ng sama ng loob, just for us to know,” the Comelec official said.
(The reports we receive through Facebook, sometimes, they are not really determined to reach prosecution, it’s like they just want to vent out, just for us to know.)
“Pag hinihingan naman namin na, ina-adivsan, punta po kayo sa ganito, may Lente, we have the IBP, we have the PNP, wala nang follow up na action na ginawa yung mga nagpapaabot ng mga reklamo, so hanggang doon lang yung complaint nila. Pinapaabot lang,” she added.
(When we ask them for details or advise them to go here, that there’s Lente, we have the IBP, we have the PNP, there’s no follow up action from those complaining, so their complaint ends there. They just want us to know.)
Ferolino, meanwhile, reminded voters who are directly involved with a vote buying incident have “immunity.”
Aside from vote=buying, vote-selling is also an election offense.
“That’s why there’s immunity doon sa guidelines natin. An immunity ng witness na kung siya man yung binibili, kung boto man niya yung binibili, he is supposed to be immune, kaya lang baka hindi pa nila alam talaga…bago lang kasi itong task force “Kontra Bigay,” we just have this ngayong eleksyon lang and this is a good start kahit medyo na-late tayo ng konti,” she said.
(That’s why there’s immunity under our guidelines. The immunity of witnesses if their votes are being bought, they are supposed to be immune…but they may not know of this…the task force “Kontra Bigay” is new, we just had this in this year’s election and this is a good start even if we are a bit late.)
“But at least, we’re receiving reports from people who are already coming out and in the next election, we will strengthen, we will look at our guidelines and we will go out and convince more people,” she added.
Ferolino said complainants also insist on remaining anonymous.
“Although sinasabi namin na hindi naman pwede na anonymous yung complaint [Although we say that a complaint cannot be anonymous], somebody has to come out but they need a lot of convincing bago sila lumabas [before they come forward],” she said.
“But in the coming elections we’re expecting more brave people to testify,” she added.
The Comelec has so far acted upon 53 complaints of vote-buying.
Ferolino said the Comelec’s law department has received a total of 73 complaints, of which 53 were acted upon, 12 were docketed and the rest are under evaluation.
Apart from that, the inter-agency Task Force “Kontra Bigay” has received, through its Facebook page, 913 messages concerning vote-buying incidents, as well as 164 e-mails. Out of these, only 88 were valid reports that have been lodged officially, of which 49 have supporting evidence.