SC affirms dismissal of vote-buying case vs QC Mayor Belmonte, Vice Mayor Sotto, et al.
MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the decision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) dismissing the vote-buying complaint filed against Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and Vice Mayor Gian Sotto in connection with the 2019 elections.
Also cleared of vote-buying allegations were congressional candidate Elizabeth Delarmente and television host Willie Revillame.
The vote-buying complaint was filed by then PDP-Laban campaign manager Michael Defensor and secretary-general Edwin Rodriguez alleging that cash was given to the crowd and that celebrities, including Revillame, were invited to endorse the candidates during a campaign rally on May 11, 2019, – two days before the elections.
Included in the complaint were pictures and videos purportedly taken during the campaign rally.
READ: Comelec: Nearly 1,000 vote buying cases under investigation
But the Comelec said the pictures and videos “failed to establish, by allegations or evidence, that vote-buying took place and that respondents are probably guilty thereof.”
Belmonte, Sotto, and Delarmente admitted that they were present at the event but maintained that they did not give cash to the attendees of Revillame’s program.
“Rather, Revillame gave cash to certain attendees of his program, but without indication that respondents Belmonte, Sotto, and Delarmente were aware or gave consent to such acts,” the Comelec said.
READ: Lawmaker: Declare vote-buying a heinous crime
It added that what was presented were bare allegations.
“The video footage and the still photos showing Revillame giving cash to the audience, without testimonies of the person who took them, as well as the testimonies of the recipients of the money, are hearsay and have weak evidentiary value,” the poll body added.
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Agreeing with Comelec, the SC, through Associate Justice Rodil V. Zalameda said, “any complaint that charges the election offense of vote-buying must be supported by credible evidence that substantiates the elements of the offense.”
“General averments of vote-buying, when accompanied by uncorroborated video clips and screenshots from such video clips, will be adjudged as mere speculation because they cannot substitute for proof required to establish probable cause,” it added.
READ: Comelec sets eyes on social media for vote-buying, election violations
The SC said there should have been affidavits of witnesses stating that there was an offer of money in exchange for a vote.
“The absence of supporting affidavits shows the frailty of the petitioners’ Complaint Affidavit and makes it vulnerable to dismissal. Submission of self-serving statements, uncorroborated audio, and visual recordings, and photographs are not considered as direct, strong, convincing and indubitable evidence,” it said.
READ: Vote-buying spree out in the open in Pangasinan, Bohol, Eastern Visayas
The SC likewise said that Revillame presented affidavits of five individuals who received his gifts. One of the recipients mentioned is a resident of Antipolo and cannot be influenced to vote for Belmonte, Sotto, and Delarmente.
“All these affiants-recipients stated that Revillame did not ask them whether they were registered Quezon City voters. What mattered to Revillame was their attendance in the program. They were also unanimous in stating that Revillame, not respondents Belmonte, Sotto, and Delarmente, as the benevolent source of their gifts. That respondent were able to present the affidavits from the recipients of Revillame’s gifts starkly contrasts with petitioners’ lack of supporting evidence for their allegations,” it added.
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