Fight vs digital vote buying won't be walk in the park: Fintech player

Warren de Guzman, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 02 2022 06:02 PM

A man uses a smartphone. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News file
A man uses a smartphone. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News file

MANILA - Vote buying through e-wallets and other apps is a major concern in the coming elections. While local fintech players have pledged to combat this, there is not much they can really do to curb this type of electoral fraud, according to the head of a digital payments firm. 

After a group of fintech firms pledged to support the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ call to prevent the use of online payments platforms for vote buying, Dominick Danao, CEO of fintech Magpie, said this task will be very difficult going into Halalan 2022. 

Danao said he backs the pledge of Fintech Alliance.ph and the E-money Association of the Philippines to fight “e-vote buying and selling.” 

“I support fully the objective. The objective is a very noble objective, we must do it,” Danao said. 

But Danao added that it’s easier said than done. 

“I support it myself, but you have to be real."

He earlier noted the difficulty in sifting through a trail of electronic transactions to determine which payments are meant for legitimate electoral expenses and which are for buying votes. 

“Hindi rin nila masasabi (They can’t tell either),” Danao said about those who would track these transfers.

Lito Villanueva, founding chairman of the Fintech Alliance.ph said that to fight vote buying, the group’s members will employ all of the tools already being used against money laundering.

These include stringent onboarding, know-your-customer protocols, and security algorithms to detect unusual volumes and values of transactions ahead of the elections. 

Villanueva said they will also cross-reference geographic data on areas known to have had high levels of vote buying and selling to help in their surveillance and detection of “e-vote buying.”

But directly linking money transfers to vote buying and other electoral fraud is another thing, according to Danao, because of the country’s laws.

“There are tensions in the law that are basically saying it is not going to be a walk in the park,” Danao said. 

PRIVACY, BANK SECRECY AND LAW ENFORCEMENT

He said the Philippines has strict laws protecting privacy and bank secrecy. 

Privacy is a huge issue for all online services as a lot of personal data is collected online and sometimes compromised in data breaches. The National Privacy Commission has laid down restrictions in the process to acquire personal information. 

Bank secrecy meanwhile is a huge hurdle for regulators and authorities seeking to follow the money in their investigations of corruption and other illicit activities. 

The BSP has been working hard to have this banking law repealed, but it remains in effect. The Philippines’ own Anti-Money Laundering Council had to seek legislative approval to allow it to circumvent the deposit secrecy law in its investigations into suspected money laundering activities. 

“These are political tensions and legal tensions that we face,” Danao said. He also noted that the country has yet to come up with a “well-settled trail of evidence appreciation when it comes to digital.”

Danao said without changes in the law, efforts to fight e-vote buying and selling may not yield much, much less convict a vote-buying politician or actually disqualify him from the elections.

In time, regulators, lawmakers, and the private sector will be able to resolve these issues, Danao said, but this won’t happen in time for the May 2022 elections. 

“It is going to be difficult at this time,” he said. 

Poll watchdog LENTE, or Legal Network for Truthful Elections, said it will wait for details on what exactly the fintech firms will do in the coming days to prevent their platforms from being used for electoral fraud.

One in five payments in the Philippines is now done digitally, the BSP said in October last year, while e-wallets are now used by around half the country’s population. 

RELATED VIDEO

Watch more News on iWantTFC