EDITORIAL - Vote buying as an electoral offense

The Philippine Star

Through several congresses, the Commission on Elections has been pushing for legislation that will discourage fraud, regulate campaign finance and enhance the integrity of the vote. One proposal in particular deserves full support from anyone who is sick of electoral fraud: giving teeth to the prohibition against vote buying.

The Commission on Elections, noting developments that it was apparently powerless to stop in the general elections last May, wants to broaden the definition of vote buying as an electoral offense, and to give the Comelec police powers to arrest anyone caught buying votes, including any politician who benefits from it. Comelec spokesman Rex Laudiangco says this proposed electoral reform is an important item in the agenda of the poll body’s chief George Garcia.

Poll automation is supposed to discourage vote buying, because there is no more physical proof that can be provided to show that the vote buyers get what they pay for. Some election watchdogs noted, however, that vote buyers apparently found ways of skirting this barrier. One way is by paying a voter in two tranches – first before the ballot is cast, and the balance when the desired result is achieved.

Laudiangco noted that among the challenges encountered by the Comelec last May was the buy-and-sell of votes through electronic fund transfers. Before and during the election campaign this year, both the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Anti-Money Laundering Council issued detailed guidelines to banks and other financial service establishments to prevent the buy-and-sell of votes.

Tracking payments for votes through e-wallets, however, has been a challenge. It is unclear if the BSP and AMLC are making an effort to investigate even individual cases of possible electronic vote buying in this year’s elections, as well as violations of the guidelines issued to banks and other financial institutions.

Laudiangco says the Comelec also cannot apprehend vote buyers even if caught in the act during elections. The Comelec wants to change this through legislation. Since it is not unlikely, however, that certain lawmakers are among the chronic vote buyers themselves, the Comelec proposal could suffer the fate of its recommendations to enact campaign finance reforms.

Vote buying undermines the democratic vote and makes election campaigns expensive. The situation gives affluent candidates – whether their wealth is legitimate or illegally amassed – an unfair advantage over rivals who play fair but are saddled with limited resources. The problem should not prove intractable. With political will and leadership, the necessary electoral reforms can still be passed.

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