Comelec warns Evasco he faces vote-buying raps
MANILA, Philippines—Mayor Leoncio Evasco Jr. of Maribojoc, Bohol province, may be charged with conspiracy to buy votes if he insists that barangay (village) captains should receive and distribute relief goods to affected families in the quake-ravaged town, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
“If he (Evasco) insists on that, we can charge him with conspiracy in vote-buying. If he will give the relief items to the barangay officials who are running in the coming elections, he’s included in vote-buying,” Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said in a press conference on Thursday.
Candidates in the barangay elections scheduled for Oct. 28, whether they have filed or intend to file their certificates of candidacy (COCs), may face vote-buying charges if they join relief operations, Brillantes said.
“Distribution of goods can be considered vote-buying. It is an election offense which carries a penalty of imprisonment and disqualification,” he said.
The Comelec on Wednesday issued a resolution prohibiting barangay election candidates from participating in relief work.
“The poll body takes cognizance of reports that some candidates are taking advantage of the ongoing relief operations to pursue their candidacies. Therefore, a clear policy should be adopted to secure that such operations remain nonpartisan and fair,” it said.
The Comelec also ruled that all releases in relation to relief and rehabilitation efforts shall be turned over to, and administered and disbursed by, the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) through the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, including the respective local disaster councils.
“No relief or other goods for distribution shall be released to any candidate for the barangay elections, including their family members,” Brillantes said.
He added that local government officials or incumbent barangay officials may join relief efforts, as long as they were not seeking reelection.
Last week, Evasco stopped the PRC from distributing relief items in his town because he wanted the group to turn over the goods to local officials for distribution to the residents.
Evasco insisted on the town’s centralized system of “equitable” distribution of relief goods.
Brillantes said the mayor should not have meddled with the relief operations of the PRC.
“If the PRC is distributing donated relief that is not part of public funds, the government should not interfere,” he said.
Apart from the possible election offense, Evasco may also be removed from the relief distribution process, Brillantes said.
“If he will insist on what he wants, we will be forced to remove him from the relief distribution process, which we can do and which the Red Cross, technically, can do, being the overall supervisor of the relief efforts,” he added.
Red Cross clams up
The PRC on Thursday issued an official statement saying it would no longer entertain any further questions on the issue regarding Evasco’s actions and statements toward its volunteers and PRC chair Richard Gordon.
“What is needed is to focus on the urgent humanitarian concerns of those affected by the earthquake [rather] than engage the mayor in a meaningless verbal tussle in the media,” the PRC statement read.
“The Philippine Red Cross will continue to provide assistance to the most vulnerable in all afflicted areas, including Buenavista, Sagbayan, Tubigon, Catigbian, Clarin, Calape, Loon, Anteguera and Maribojoc, in spite of the mayor’s attitude toward our volunteers. We will uphold our fundamental principles of humanity, unity, universality and most importantly, impartiality, independence, neutrality and voluntary service,” it said.