Vote-buying has been a perennial problem every election — be it national, local, barangay, or Sangguniang Kabataan poll exercise.
And it has become a cycle of election fraud despite stiff penalties imposed under the Omnibus Election Code.
In previous elections, there had been reports on the arrest of individuals for vote-buying. However, nothing was heard of after the apprehensions.
Now comes Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman George Erwin Garcia, who has expressed his determination to fight vote-buying.
Appearing before the House Committee on Appropriations, which tackled the proposed Comelec budget in 2024, Garcia told congressmen that the poll body is ready to address “modern vote-buying” — which is carried out via transfers to e-wallets — in the Oct. 30 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections (BSKE). He particularly mentioned money transfers via GCash and Paymaya as possible cases of modern vote-buying.
“If a person sends money, whether a candidate or not, then we will presume [vote-buying]. For example, if the person sends to 20 people, 200 people, amounts worth ₱1,000 and ₱500 each with no loose change, we will presume that person to have engaged in vote-buying,” the Comelec chair told congressmen, saying a resolution has been passed to carry it out.
Section 30 of Comelec Resolution No. 10946 defines what constitutes suspicious transactions of vote-buying and vote-selling. It states: “Any unusual transaction flow between accounts, digital banking and digital wallets, including unusual large cash withdrawals involving the amount exceeding ₱500,000, encashment of checks, during election period, which have no underlying legal/trade obligation, purpose or economic justification, or the amount involved is not commensurate with the business or financial profile of the client, shall be considered suspicious transactions of vote-buying and vote-selling. For this purpose, the Commission shall have the authority to inquire into the financial records of candidates and any organization or group of persons, motu proprio, after due notice and hearing…”
Another step to fight vote-buying is the ban on carrying ₱500,000 or more when the campaign period starts.
“Carrying ₱500,000 daily is not normal a few days before the election day. So we will presume that those carrying that amount are engaged in vote-buying activities,” the Comelec chair told security officials in a recent meeting.
The Comelec move is a welcome development if the government wants to put a stop on vote-buying and vote-selling.
But while the state wants to preserve the sanctity of the ballot, it should put enough safeguards to keep the public’s confidence in the banking system and in the digital environment that the government is trying to promote. Without safeguards, the Comelec policy may be subject to abuses and possible harassment against perceived enemies of the state or opponents of influential political figures considering that mere presumption would trigger an investigation and, therefore, prompts the opening of financial accounts. Any indiscriminate and unnecessary opening of bank accounts or financial records is certain to dilute confidence in the banking system.
With this in mind, we encourage the Comelec to strike a balance between its campaign against vote-buying on one hand, and respecting the privacy of individuals and keeping the public’s confidence in the banking system on the other hand.
We need a clean election, the same way we need a strong banking system. One should not be sacrificed for the other.
Credit belongs to: www.mb.com.ph