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Presidential Aspirants Weigh In On Vote Buying As Comelec Reminds Public It’s An Election Offense

Presidential Aspirants Weigh In On Vote Buying As Comelec Reminds Public It’s An Election Offense
In this file photo by Boy Santos of The Philippine STAR file photo, voters are given cash during election day.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) stressed on Wednesday, Oct. 28, that accepting money from candidates is an election offense.

“Vote buying is an election offense regardless of financial situation or noble intentions,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez posted on Twitter.

“It should not be done, and neither should it be suggested to voters,” he added in Filipino.

Jimenez posted the statement following Vice President Leni Robredo’s remarks that voters may accept money from candidates, but vote based on their conscience.

“I disagree with the notion of taking the money and voting according to your conscience,” the Comelec official said.

A number of netizens said vote buying has long been happening and chided the Comelec for apparently not taking action against it. They said many candidates have been caught on video handing money to voters, yet no one seems to ever get prosecuted.?

Jimenez said the Comelec has long been against vote buying.?

The vote buying debate on social media was stirred by Robredo’s response when asked for her advice on how to handle offers to sell their votes during a virtual meeting with the “Kasambahay for Leni” group on Tuesday, Oct. 27.

“Vote buying is wrong. But I always tell people to accept it,” she said in Filipino. “Accept it because that also came from us. What they use to buy votes are public funds. Accept it, but vote using your conscience. Do not vote as if you owe something to the candidate because you accepted it.”

Leni clarifies statement

On Wednesday, Robredo sought to put her remarks in proper context, saying she does not condone vote buying and called for stronger enforcement of elections laws.

“We are aware that it is against the law. We are not happy that it is not being enforced. But our eyes should also be open to the realities on the ground,” she said in Filipino during a press conference in Naga City.

“If it is not properly enforced, then what should we do?” Robredo said. “For those who end up accepting (the money), they should not vote as if they are indebted to the person who gave it. If someone kept on buying votes but ended up losing, that is the number one deterrent.”

During the press conference, Robredo said her response on the matter was shared by some without the proper context.

“We do not condone vote buying. In fact, we are one of those who have been trying to fight it,” she said, citing the cases she filed – but which were dismissed despite evidence – after her first run for an elective post in 2013.

She stressed the need for authorities to properly enforce the law to prevent it from happening.

“Because enforcement is not right, the realities on the ground are that many get away with it. What we are saying is, for those who get away with it, those who received something should not think that it is their obligation to vote those who gave it,” the Vice President said.

“But number one is that it is wrong. It has to be enforced,” she added.

Rivals react

Reacting to the issue, Manila Mayor Isko Moreno said voters should not be blamed or taken for fools if they accept the money being dangled to them by politicians engaged in vote buying.

In a statement, the Aksyon Demokratiko standard bearer said he trusts the voting public’s intellect.

“You can’t blame the people for accepting the money with how difficult life is. But Filipinos are smart. They know a leader who has compassion,” Moreno said in Filipino. “Politicians should not belittle the people’s understanding. They are smart.”?

Sen. Manny Pacquiao, a fellow presidential aspirant, has been openly handing out money to people when he visits certain areas – a practice he had long been doing as a prize fighter.

The boxer-turned-senator said he sees no problem with it because the money came from his own pocket and is intended to help the needy.?

Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, PDP-Laban’s contender for the presidency, warned that vote buying and selling are “illegal and immoral.”

“First, receiving the bribe money is already engaging in vote buying, which is a violation of law therefore illegal. Secondly, accepting the money and voting with your conscience, which is voting for another candidate other than the bribing candidate, is akin to ‘estafa’ therefore immoral,” Dela Rosa said.

“The better advice is not to accept the money and report the vote buyer directly to the police,” the country’s former top cop added.?

For Sen. Panfilo Lacson, another former PNP chief aspiring to be president, his spokesperson Ashley Acedillo warned that Filipinos themselves will suffer in the end if they sell their votes.

“If voters think that accepting money or selling their votes is the only way to immediately benefit from a politician, they should be aware that they would suffer for a longer period in return,” Acedillo said.

Revisit substitution rules

Robredo also expressed support for calls for a review of the substitution provision for candidates, describing the practice of using placeholders as a mockery of elections laws.

“It looks like the provision on substitution is being abused. We know why we have that provision,” she said.

“But we saw what happened in 2016 and what is happening now. It is being abused in the sense that there are placeholders. That is not the intent of the law,” she added.

In 2016, then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte used the substitution provision to belatedly join the presidential race.

Some noted that the same provision may be used by political parties that are still waiting for the final decision of their preferred candidates.

Robredo said she agrees with the proposal of Pacquiao for presidential candidates to take part in face-to-face debates.

“I think that it should be face-to-face so that issues will be thoroughly discussed while you are in the same event. It is difficult to debate on social media,” she said.

Meanwhile, Robredo expressed alarm over the reported call of her supporters to boycott business establishments that support other candidates.

“I was alarmed because we do not encourage those actions. If you will notice, I exert effort to urge our supporters not to follow the style of others,” she said. “What we are pushing for is to be inclusive and not act like trolls.”

Clapback at Imee

On Twitter, Robredo’s spokesman Barry Gutierrez responded to Sen. Imee Marcos, who had described the Vice President as an “extraordinary housewife” who should not be underestimated by other candidates.

“VP Leni is also an ‘extraordinary lawyer,’ a ‘productive legislator,’ an ‘actual degree holder’ (several times over in fact) and, of course, the ‘duly elected Vice President.’ Just spreading some truth and love,” he said.

During a radio interview, Marcos was asked to describe presidential aspirants in two words. Her brother, former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., is also running for president.

Robredo narrowly won the vice presidential race against the former senator in 2016. Her victory was upheld by the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe