Vote-buying, illegal campaigning mar Monday’s polls

VERA Files
Tinig Ng Botante

PESO bills circulating in Samar province had taken on a slightly different look till the runup to election day itself. On their face appeared new names: those of candidates, both administration and opposition, that dwarfed the names of heroes to whom the bills have been assigned.

In Cabanatuan City, eight Ford XLT 15-seater passengers unloaded about 300 Badjaos at a voting center in a barangay. By the time a barangay official noticed they were not from the area—they live in another barangay 10 kilometers away—and had no business voting there, the “sea gypsies” had finished voting and been quickly herded back to the vehicles.

And be it Bulacan in Luzon or Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao, local politicians shamelessly employed children to distribute campaign materials near polling precincts on election day.

Vote-buying, unorthodox and illegal campaigning, hakot and other poll violations on voting day itself on marred what was erstwhile a generally peaceful and orderly election on Monday.

Candidates deploying agents to directly buy votes for fees ranging from P10 to P5,000 remained the norm, according to reports gathered by VERA Files.

In high gear especially on election eve, last-minute vote-buying led the arrest of at least 14 people in Iloilo, Cebu and Dipolog cities and an Agusan del Sur town on Monday, the Philippine National Police said.

Earlier, on Friday, police in Candaba, Pampanga filed charges against a certain Apolinario dela Cruz who was caught giving away white envelopes marked "Busog" with money in them. Police confiscated two bags with 44 envelopes with P300 in each. The suspect had 1,000 envelopes, police found out. "Busog" is identified with mayoral candidate Reynaldo Sagum. In an interview with CLTV36, Sagum denied the allegations, saying the money was for his supporters' allowance and not to buy votes.

In Bulacan, police also confiscated on Saturday over P1 million allegedly for buying votes for a candidate in Norzagaray. The money is now with the municipal treasury office, along with envelopes and campaign materials of the candidate. Each envelope contained amounts ranging from P100 to P500. Based on a tip, police raided the office of the NHV Homeowners Association where they found the stash. CLTV tried but failed to get the side of the candidate.

But many violators went scot-free: No complaints were filed with authorities—or the latter preferred to look away. PNP Director General Alan Purisima said in an earlier interview that police often do not find evidence to support claims and witnesses who would like testify.

Last minute vote-buying was reported in polling precincts in Tacloban City, particularly Rizal Central and Anibong Community School.

In Cabanatuan City, several barangay officials, including one barangay captain, were seen personally handing voters P200 to P300 to residents in a slum community. A mayoral candidate had earmarked P500 per taxi driver in one barangay.

In Bataan, vote buying was widespread on the eve of the election. A group even posted on Facebook photos of money inserted in sample ballots in Dinalupihan. A voter said the system this year was highly organized since the voter's name and precinct number were listed down along with the amount of money received. Even barangay captains were said to be involved. But no one dared file a case before Comelec, officials in the town said.

In Camarines Sur, candidates’ agents who had secured a copy of the voter’s list as a means to get in touch with their prospective sellers were handing out P500 to voters, according to a report of the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections.

Earlier, the accredited citizens’ arm had submitted to the Commission on Elections more than 20 cases of vote buying and selling in Malabon, Manila, Abra, Mountain Province, Ilocos Norte, Pangasinan, Rizal, Palawan, Romblon, Albay, Negros Oriental, Negros Oriental, Eastern Samar, Guimaras, Antique, Surigao de Sur, Siargao, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay and Tawi–Tawi.

On Monday, the Namfrel chapter in Sultan Kudarat reported vote buying in the province on election day, saying the sums ranged from P300 to P500.

So widely practiced is vote-buying it has produced a terminology of its own. Surigao residents call money used to buy votes tili-tili, which literally means drizzle or light rain. Money is stapled to candidates’ flyers or leaflets bearing their names and their faces, according to a MindaNews account.

Folks in Albay call the practice of vote-buying paipit in Albay, because a sample ballot is stapled with money placed in a brown envelope.

Because vote-buying is a crime, candidates find ingenious ways to distribute the money. Because election eve fell on Mother’s Day this year, candidates used the occasion—as well as other celebrations like birthdays— to herd voters for meals, drinking, and money inside hotels, beach resorts, and even schools, the think tank Center for People Empowerment in Governance said. This was especially the case in Camarines Sur.

In Palawan and other provinces, vote buying and “partying” took place at cockpits, CenPEG said.

Persons found guilty of vote-buying face a prison term of one to six years and will be permanently barred from holding any public office and denied their right to vote.

In some parts of the country, vote-buying has led to untoward incidents. A commotion occurred in Agusan del Norte when some voters allegedly expecting to receive bribes were removed from the list of recipients, Namfrel said.

In Alaminos City, Pangasinan, a supporter of former Rep. Arthur Celeste, a mayoral bet of the Nationalist People’s Coalition, said he was beaten up by bodyguards of Liberal Party gubernatorial candidate Hernani Braganza and his son Lean, who is running for city mayor, while was he was monitoring an alleged vote-buying spree by Braganza’s followers.

Marco Dalin, the victim, said friends who rushed to his aid were to “put up or shut up” on the reported vote-buying.

In San Quintin town also in Pangasinan, 10 barangay captains of NPC reelectionist Romulo Antolin said they were prevented from monitoring last-minute vote-buying by LP operators in the presence of policemen.

NPC Rep. Kimi Cojuangco of the province’s fifth congressional district, wife of former Rep. Mark Cojuangco who chairs the party in Pangasinan, complained that police were turning a blind eye to alleged massive vote-buying operations by the Liberal Party.

Campaigning on election day, which is illegal, took place in many areas because police and voters alike had no idea that the last day of campaigning for national and local elections was last Saturday.

Campaign materials and sample ballots were still being handed out Monday morning to voters right at the entrance of several voting centers in Guiguinto, Bulacan.

At Guiguinto Central School, a mascot of a reelectionist councilor distributed leaflets, while a group of children gave out sample ballots and leaflets. In Pulonggubat Elementary School, children and adults alike lined up outside the school as early as 7 a.m. to hand out campaign flyers and sample ballots.

Campaigning near voting centers is prohibited, but no police officer came to reprimand or arrest the violators in Guiguinto.

Photographs of children campaigning near polling precincts in Lambayong, Sultan Kudarat on election day in were taken by Namfrel volunteers.

Rival candidates were seen employing children to distribute election materials near polling precincts, Namfrel volunteer Aireen Romero told MindaNews. —From the reports of Melissa Luz Lopez, Carlos Marquez, Johanne Marguerrette Macob, Eimor Santos, Vince Nonato Reyan Arinto, MindaNews and CLTV36

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)