‘Little people,’ not pols, go to jail for election offenses, Padaca finds
BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—One can go to jail for violating election laws, based on several cases in Baguio City and Benguet province that had drawn the attention of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Grace Padaca.
Many of these cases involved ordinary people who were jailed on technicalities that made them liable for election law violations, Padaca discovered during a recent visit here.
No local politician, however, has been jailed, much less prosecuted, for breaking election laws, Comelec records here showed.
Padaca visited some of the people implicated in these Baguio and Benguet cases in January and April.
She discussed her findings with the Inquirer last month, after the Comelec convened en banc (in full) at its Baguio compound.
Padaca said the cases she uncovered established an unassailable fact—Batas Pambansa 881 (the Omnibus Election Code) is harsh but it is the law, even if it appears to have punished only the “little people” so far.
Last week, the Inquirer spoke to Jeffrey Astrero, 20, of Mankayan town in Benguet, who had been sentenced to a five-year prison term for carrying bullets during the election gun ban for the May 2013 midterm polls.
“I don’t know… I picked the bullets up from the side of the road and I put them in my pocket. Then I was arrested [along with some teenagers who were implicated in the destruction of property] and the police found the bullets when I was frisked,” Astrero said. The incident occurred on Feb. 7, 2013.
He said he was not aware the gun ban was in effect. He went through a three-month trial before he was convicted. He is detained at the Benguet provincial jail in the capital of La Trinidad.
He will be transferred to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City to serve his sentence, said Peter Tip-ac, provincial jail warden.
Cause for concern
Padaca said cases like Astrero’s were a cause for concern for the Comelec because poll offenders ended up being mixed with inmates convicted for much harsher crimes.
“It bears some rethinking,” she said.
Cyrus Jay Ambros, 22, was arrested in Baguio on March 4, 2013, for carrying an unlicensed .45-cal. pistol during the gun ban and was sentenced to a five-year jail term in an illegal gun possession case on July 22, 2013.
On March 15 last year, police seized a gun from suspected thief Milandro Tamisa, when he was turned over to them by residents of South Sanitary Camp village here.
A local court dismissed the charges because the police had searched Tamisa’s belongings without a warrant.
Senior Insp. Edward Fataner, assistant warden of the Baguio City jail, said the police detained six men for violating the gun ban last year, but they either posted bail or were acquitted.
Padaca also said a double registration case landed an employee of a mining firm in jail, but the Comelec reviewed his case and considered endorsing him for clemency as he assumed he could vote in an area reserved for his fellow mine workers. He was eventually released for good behavior, Padaca said.—Jhoanna Marie Buenaobra, with reports from Dennielle Lomboy and Harvey Aquino, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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