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Voting Problems in Bukidnon: Vote buying, ‘Comelec’ issues, disinformation (Part 1)

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A special report (First of two parts)

MALAYBALAY CITY (BukidnonNews.Net/11 July 2022) On Election Day, Lalang’s neighbors collected their P900 cash each in the house of a village coordinator. The P500 and two P200 bills were stapled to sample ballots of three politicians. All three where her original bets.

At first, she was frantic. Someone excluded her name from the coordinator’s list as a voter in one of Bukidnon’s 464 barangays. Later that evening, it was her turn to fall in line; but in another village leader’s house. She pocketed P1, 100, attached to a long list of candidates.

Lalang admitted she changed preference in the May 9, 2022 local elections based on the amount she received. She insisted she did not sell her votes and claimed she only accepted the money, as she needed it.

The results of focus group discussions (FGDs) organized under the BukindonNews.Net-led Piniyalan Reporting Governance Community Project 2022-2025 showed that vote buying/selling has emerged as the most commonly identified election problem in Bukidnon in the run up to and during the 2022 polls. Next were Commission on Election issues and fake news/disinformation.   

The community research project gathered responses from representatives of 40 organizations from at least 20 sectors in the cities of Malaybalay and Valencia for the “Aspirations for Good Governance FGDs and Consultations” organized in March to April 2022.

One out of two sectoral representatives (20 out of 40) in the FGDs said vote buying and selling to the highest bidder was the problem they expect voters would face in the May 2022 polls in Bukidnon.

Highest bidder vs. platform

“Vote buying, meaning voters wait who among the candidates offer the highest bid. They don’t’ vote based on platforms anymore,“ said Bienvenido Narciso, Chairperson - NGO Sector of the National Anti-Poverty Commission Provincial Consultative Assembly, in his March 2022 response to the question “What do you think are the problems that voters will encounter in the run up and on May 9, 2022 elections?”

Narciso confirmed that his prior observation was exactly what happened on election day. 

“Mao gyud highest bidder gyud,” (Yes, indeed it was for the highest bidder) he told BukidnonNews.Net on June 30, when asked to confirm.

According to Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, vote buying or selling is a prohibited act, with penalties of imprisonment for one to six years, disqualification to hold public office, and forfeiture of one’s right to vote.  Any political party found guilty would also have to pay a fine of not less than P10, 000.

Jon Bolongaita, from the IP Youth Sector representing the Bukidnon Tagolwanen said the level of vote buying was high in Bukidnon.

“Almost all the candidates released money to secure enough votes,” he said on a recent query via SMS.

BukidnonNews.Net sources who asked to remain anonymous said that on the day before the May 9 elections, their villages were abuzz with coordinators of candidates distributing cash attached to sample ballots. The operation went up to the wee hours of the morning. Some voters received cash from two major local parties. Some others cried foul because they got nothing. A number of those who complained they received nothing admitted they were not registered voters in the area or they were associated with one of the candidates. One of those interviewed said most of the swingers were initially undecided. Those who have made up their minds earlier in the campaign did not change preferences. Sources also said the groups of candidates tendered different amounts from one barangay to another. 

Most of those who cited the problem of vote commodification said voter’s education could help address the issue.

Bolongaita, a Bukidnon State University student and a practicing IP artist, said strict implementation of election laws and voters’ education about the negative effects of vote buying/selling could stop it.

Other participants offered personal actions to counter vote buying,

Fr. Noel Lagura, Director of the Diocese of Malaybalay’s Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) said amidst threats accompanying vote buying as a major issue in Bukidnon, voters should not accept money and should vote without fear.

“Mobarog sa kamatuoran ug mobuhat sa angayang buhaton panahon sa eleksiyon,” (stand for the truth and do what is supposed to be done during elections) he added.

Justine C. Aninloy, of the 4H Club – Young Farmers Association of Metro Valencia said he would campaign against vote buying through online platforms, a point he shared in common with another youth representative Sitie Mariam Balindong from Valencia City’s Meranao community.  

National, not just a local issue
Vote buying/selling, however, is a problem of Philippine elections in general. 
 
“The deeply-rooted patronage system in the Philippines bolsters money politics, especially during elections. Some candidates engage in vote buying rather than promoting their platforms, others misuse public service delivery for electoral purposes instead of broader development objectives,” an analysis published in The Interpreter said.

According to the piece, the motivation of many poor Filipinos to obtain material benefits in exchange for their votes has enabled the practice.

The Interpreter quoted a recent study that “about 40 per cent of the poor said they saw vote buying take place in their community while only 20 per cent admitted to selling their votes.”

Not everybody, however, shifted votes to the highest bidder, based on the account of a community worker who visited a rural barangay.  A tribal leader told a coordinator of a politician that it would be unbecoming for her to accept money from the opponent of the politician the clan has supported. The coordinator approached the tribal leader when the former heard that the latter did not receive anything from their bet. 

“Ga ritual ko, ga tudlo ko sa kabataan, sa katawhan, unya mobali ko? Dili ko na kinaiya (I do rituals, I teach the youth and the people and then I will shift? That’s not my way),” the community worker quoted the tribal leader to have said.

Lawyer Burt M. Estrada, the current national chair of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) said it takes more than education to stop vote buying.

In his response to the FGD/consultation, Estrada said “vote buying” and “disinformation” needed concrete actions.

“Exact accountability from violators. Call out fake news and help provide correct information,” he added.

Ms. Loreta Sol L. Dinlayan of Bukidnon State University’s Bukidnon Studies Center urged those who noticed irregularities like vote buying, to report to authorities. Dinlayan took part in the consultation as representative from IP professionals.

Prof. Joy Jamago of Central Mindanao University has a specific suggestion.

“Provide a hotline or account where people can send texts, messages, photos or videos documenting attempts on vote buying - use these as evidences to disqualify candidates after due process,” she said in her response.

“Let’s keep it simple,” A Valencia City-based youth community leader said. “If there are violators, they should be arrested. They should be jailed.”  

A lawyer who once have represented a candidate, however, said there is just too much at stake for those who will decide to file a case against vote buyers/sellers.

“It is difficult to prosecute,” he said adding, while it is easy to document the act of vote buying/selling, the documenter will not stand as a witness.

The odds, he said, are too much and impractical.

“Is he/she prepared to take a powerful politician head on? Being a witness in a lawsuit entails huge loss of time, not to mention resources, on the part of the witness,” he added.

In the hands of citizens?
A staff of the Office of the Election Supervisor - Bukidnon told Piniyalan Reporting Governance Community Project that complaints on vote buying are filed before the courts, not the Commission on Elections.

“So far, there were no local complaints on vote buying which were coursed through the office,” the staff said.

The Commission on Elections Task Force Bigay has directed, through a memorandum, law enforcement agencies to strictly enforce the statutory prohibition against vote buying and vote selling, according to a PNA report on May 4, 2022.

The Comelec has committed to establish a Citizen Complaint Center (CCC).

However, a Comelec official said citizens have the hand in stopping vote buying, as they cannot catch violators all the time.

Lawyer Gina Zayas-Sabio, Comelec-Region 10 officer, was quoted by another PNA news report as saying “it is up to the voters themselves to not accept bribe money”. She said vote buying/selling can only stop if voters will stop receiving or entertaining the seller.

“It is a personal conviction and an individual decision,” she said, as quoted in the report.

Ruth Agripo, Vice President for External Affairs of the Valencia City Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said it may not stop the problem right away but everything starts with education.

“Let’s start within our families especially our new voters, the young ones. Let’s be honest to them and explain the importance of their vote,” she added. (BukidnonNews.Net)

Next: Comelec issues, fake news, other woes 

This story was published with support from Internews Philippines

 



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