In fight vs. vote-buying, Comelec faces difficult task of changing voters’ mindset

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson said they intend to stop vote-buying through improving the voters’ “criteria” in choosing candidates, reacting to a former Senate president’s claims that she was not impressed with the poll body’s actions.

Comelec Education and Information Department director James Jimenez said voters’ education is the key to change the mindset of voters, who he said sometimes prefer candidates who gave them money in exchange for their vote.

“The problem is a lot of our voters do not have the same sort of criteria that we define as being necessary criteria for intelligent voting… For the most part, we see people winning who put on girl shows, who give out toys,” Jimenez said during a forum on fair and honest elections on Wednesday.

“Which leads us to believe and we have seen this in the provinces, that the basis for choosing might be different, and that’s what we’re working on – to make sure that we have a crop of voters who will grow up thinking other criteria are more valid than who gave me what with,” he added.

This was after Leticia Ramos-Shahani, who served as Senate president from 1995 to 1996 and sister of former President Fidel Ramos, said she was not impressed with Jimenez’s statements on vote-buying.

“I think the Comelec should not be so innocent and always talk about theoretical things. Because I listen to you over TV very, very regularly, and I’m not satisfied,” Shahani said at the forum, addressing Jimenez.

“It’s not your fault. I’m not blaming you. But there has to be a more convincing way of explaining why all of these anomalies happen, deliberate, not accidental,” added Shahani, who was chairperson of the committees on foreign affairs, education, agriculture, and culture and arts when she was a senator from the 8th to 10th Congress.

Culture of cheating

Shahani, who once ran as governor in Pangasinan but lost, said there is a culture of secrecy among the Filipinos that make vote-buying rampant.

“Culturally, we’re not transparent. We’ll have to be as dense as stones. Why don’t we look at our own cultural practices in the province?” she said.

Shahani also said the Comelec should look into having a culture “specialist” who could assist the poll body in stopping vote-buying. “Maybe you should have some specialist who will know how to understand the Filipino talent for cheating,” she told Jimenez.

Jimenez insisted that the root cause of the problem is the lack of consistency in intelligent voting.

“The root cause of the frustration of the many people who campaign against vote-buying is because we are operating on a set of criteria that no one else seems to share. And it is sharing this criteria with them, making sure that they want platforms, that they want intelligent politics, rather than [politicians giving] monoblock chairs, that is what ultimately will take to undermine the ability of vote buying to operate in our provinces,” he said.

He noted, however, that vote-buying will be difficult to monitor “mostly because both the giver and the receiver of the money have it in their best interest not to reveal their operations.”

Despite this, Jimenez said that through voters’ education Comelec would be able to “break the ignorance of the people so that mayroon silang panibagong set of criteria sa pagpili ng kanilang iboboto.”

He said Comelec has not failed to do its job to find a “long-term” solution to vote-buying.

“Huwag po sana tayong magkakamaling isipin na hindi alam ng Comelec ang nagaganap. Alam natin ang nangyayari pero iba-iba ang approach natin. Ang approach po natin especially now, medyo mas long term. Naghahanap kami ng paraan para mas maayos ‘yung problema ng mga botante mismo na walang nakikitang mali sa vote buying,” Jimenez said.

Realistic approach

Shahani suggested that Comelec should find a more “realistic approach” to voters’ education.

“What goes into voters’ education? I don’t think they’ve really looked into this. What do you educate the voters on? I think it has to be more practical now. A more realistic approach, I think that’s what’s more important,” the former senator said.

The Comelec en banc earlier said they are mulling passing a resolution that would minimize vote-buying in the country.

Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the resolution may be issued at least 10 days before May 13, Election Day. “Kasi ang vote-buying is really being used a few days before the elections, usually bisperas or two days before,” he said.

Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code defines vote-buying as “any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private, or makes or offers to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity, or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his vote in the election, or to vote for or against any aspirant for the nomination or choice of a candidate in a convention or similar selection process of a political party.”

Vote-selling, meanwhile, is “any person, association, corporation, group or community who solicits or receives, directly or indirectly, any expenditure or promise of any office or employment, public or private, for any of the foregoing considerations.”

Those who will be found guilty of such and other election offenses will be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation.

The guilty party will also be disqualified to hold public office and deprived of the right of suffrage while a political party found guilty shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than P10,000, which shall be imposed if their officials will be found guilty of the crime. KBK, GMA News ,

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