Comelec: Selling votes may result in criminal raps

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 17 2022 09:35 PM

MANILA - Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner George Erwin Garcia reminded the public on Thursday that aside from candidates, voters themselves may be held accountable under the law for receiving any substantial compensation in exchange for their votes on May 9, 2022.

Garcia, an election lawyer before being named to the poll body, also maintained that the mere promise or offer to give any substantial consideration in exchange for a vote may be considered vote-buying even if the recipient refuses.

He made the explanation in answer to queries from the media regarding the alleged distribution of cash inside envelopes at a provincial sortie of presidential candidate Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., whose electoral protest against Vice President Leni Robredo in the 2016 elections was handled by Garcia.

Garcia said Comelec can only act on allegations of vote buying if a complaint is filed. However, he also said in the same briefing that those who accept money may be held liable for the offense of vote selling.

“Para po sa mga kababayan natin, it takes two to tango. Wala pong vote buying kung walang vote selling, so huwag po isipin ng iba na ang guilty lang po ay kandidato. May vote buying po, may vote selling kasama po ang mismong botante na nagbenta ng boto na pwedeng mademanda at makasuhan namin,” Garcia said.

“Pero kung yung botante ay tumanggi na tumanggap mula sa kandidato kahit na attempt lang ng kandidato is already vote buying by itself kahit na di tinanggap mismo ng botante yung binibigay ng kandidato,” Garcia added.

He said Section 261-A of the Omnibus Election code defines vote buying as giving any consideration whether in case of in kind in exchange for votes. 

"Pero dapat naman the consideration in cash or in kind is substantial, meaning ano substantial depends on the circumstances of each (case),” Garcia said.

“Ano ibig sabihin po noon kung ako magbigay sa inyo ng candy, hindi naman siguro para sa akin lang personal ko ito dahil ako’y nagpa-practice, yung candy di naman vote buying yun. But if I promise something, kahit simpleng promise lang po, kahit wala kang binibigay is already vote buying," he added. 

“Pinaka-crucial doon, the intention is to convince or influence the voters to vote for the candidate."

The Election Code says any person found guilty of any election offense shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year, but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation. 

In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification from holding public office and deprived of the right of suffrage. 

Garcia reiterated that the poll body needed a complainant to come forward on the matter of the alleged giving out of cash in white envelopes at the UniTeam rally in Nueva Ecija. 

“Napaka-usual kasi yun na pag may ganiyan, the Comelec will always ask its field personnel na verify, re-verify kasi pag tinatanong kami meron kami sinabi na ginawa. But definitely whatever will be the findings of our provincial election supervisors or regional directors in cases like this will form part of any investigation that will be formally conducted in case there will be complaints,” the commissioner said.

“Kaya napaka-importante na may mag-cocomplain kasi ang hirap porket napanuod natin o nakitang ganiyan kinakailangan may mag-complain kasi po kahit sa rules of evidence kinakailangan may testimony, kinakailangan may documentary evidence,” he stressed.

“Yun mismo nakakuha ng video kinakailangan ma-present mo sa court, mag-testiify siya (na) ako mismo nandoon ako mismo, kumuha gamit ko yung camera kong ganito eksakto nakita ko siya. Yung mga ganun we always have that presumption of innocence until the guilt is proven,” Garcia explained.

The commissioner said while Comelec will definitely prosecute if there is basis, they also have to ensure due process. For now, the poll body has referred the matter to its local personnel.

“But if a complaint will be filed, definitely our law department will conduct a full-blown investigation, will be calling people kung saka-sakali there will be subpoena issued to individuals, especially kung may named individuals doon,” Garcia said.

“Basta may mag-complain lang we will definitely act on it.”