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Comelec says almost 1,000 vote-buying cases under investigation

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Comelec says almost 1,000 vote-buying cases under investigation
A worker verifies printed ballots which will be used for the May 9 national and local elections, at the National Printing Office in Quezon City, suburban Manila on March 15, 2022.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections is investigating almost 1,000 cases of vote-buying during the recently concluded 2022 elections, it disclosed Monday.

In an interview over ABS-CBN News Channel's "Rundown" early Monday morning, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia also said that the separate disqualification cases are now up for resolution after the respondents lodge their answers.

“We have almost 1,000 cases being investigated and we have several subpoenas issued, requiring the respondents to explain,” Garcia said. 

“In the case of disqualification cases involving practically the same fraud and irregularities, the cases are now submitted for resolution after the respondents are required to file their answer."

Almost 2,000 vote-counting machines were found to be defective in some way or another on election day, though Comelec Commissioner George Garcia at the time claimed these were all "common issues."

This came after the Comelec confirmed a "data breach" in poll machine provider Smartmatic, though it was careful to say that the leaked information was not election-related. 

RELATED: Comelec: Too early to tell if Smartmatic still tapped in 2025

The Comelec on election day also reminded the public that distributing sample ballots outside of polling precincts was an election offense, though the distribution continued to go on unhampered for the entire day, oftentimes even in front of personnel of the Philippine National Police deputized by the Comelec. 

“In the case of other fraud that you have mentioned, like for example, the presence of this garbage in one area in Cavite, and the data breach that happened, these are ongoing investigations,” Garcia also said Monday morning as he assured the public of full transparency.

"But definitely, I can promise you, we will come up and we will be very open and transparent to reveal to the public what happened and transpired in these investigations."

In the same interview, Garcia said that the Comelec would lobby Congress for a law against the use of social media trolls during the campaign period, claiming that the absence of a law regulating social media in the country rendered the poll body "powerless" in monitoring candidates'  online campaign spending.    

Earlier, Tsek.ph — a collaborative fact-checking project for the 2022 Philippines’ elections and an initiative of academe, civil society groups and media — said its findings indicate the Marcos Jr. is the top beneficiary of online disinformation.  

"Easily, anybody who will be victimized by these trolls can file cases in relation to cyber libel. But of course, it's very difficult to prove and at the same, it's very difficult to pinpoint the liability of individuals in this case," Garcia said. 

"That's the reason why in the next Congress, we will push for a social media regulation at least as far as election expenditure and campaign is concerned," he added.

Comelec: Most complaints don't include evidence

Per the Comelec Task Force Kontra Bigay's latest update on 11:30 a.m. Monday, it received exactly 1,111 messages and emails on its official channels while the Comelec Law Department received 117 reports or verified complaints.

Of which, 210 concerned citizens were asked to file their affidavit with evidence for a potential motu proprio case against the supposed persons involved in vote-buying and selling.

"Out of the 210 concerned citizens requested to file their affidavits, there are only 3 that are willing to pursue their complaints," the task force said. 

Meanwhile, according to the Comelec legal unit, out of the 171 emails, 88 can be considered valid reports and have been officially recorded. Of the 88 recorded reports on the other hand, only 49 were submitted with supporting evidence.

In a Viber message to reporters, Comelec director and acting spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco said that once the Commission en banc decides to file a criminal case, the People of the Philippines will be the listed complainant in the Regional Trial Court while the Comelec legal department or field office will be the prosecutor.

"What’s important to note here is the conduct of the preliminary investigation, then if there’s finding of probable cause, the ultimate filing of Criminal Information in the RTC having jurisdiction of the place where the election offense of vote buying is committed," he said. 

In cases filed with either the Commission or the National Prosecution Service, the Comelec Law Department will be the one to conduct the investigation.

"Some of the reports received through the FB page are not vote-buying/selling related incidents, [while] similar complaints were received regarding videos that went viral," the Task Force Kontra Bigay also observed.

"Some would message the FB page just to insult the Commission; and many reported vote-buying incidents but are afraid to testify."

It added that of the 210 concerned citizens requested to file their affidavits, only 3 are willing to file and actively pursue complaints.

"This is excluding the requests for investigation which were transmitted just today. There are about 5 with blotter extracts and affidavits."

— with reports from Kaycee Valmonte
 

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