Votes for sale: Money matters in the time of elections

Isay Reyes, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 12 2019 07:52 PM | Updated as of May 12 2019 09:57 PM

Anna, a resident of Bulacan, receives an envelope with a list of candidates and a 500 peso bill during a gathering Monday night. ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Anna (not her real name) was invited to an election gathering when she received a brown envelope containing a lengthwise sheet of paper with the names of local candidates running for office in Bulacan.

The brown envelope was labeled "watcher’s kit." With it was a smaller brown envelope with a 500 peso bill inside. 

Anna, a first-time voter, said she is not an election day watcher, neither did she ask for any amount of money. At least 100 people received the envelopes, she said.

"Pagpunta ko po doon, marami nang tao tapos tinatawag lang 'yung mga pangalan. I didn't apply to be a watcher," she said, adding that the envelope distribution was done at the house of an election coordinator. 

Two people distributed the envelopes - one for the watcher's kits, the other for the money. 

After calling out voter #186, the distribution of envelopes suddenly stopped and people started to leave one by one after the coordinators caught someone taking a video of the envelope distribution. 

Asked how her name was included in the list, Anna said the distributors had a masterlist of the registered voters in their barangay. 

It was the first time, she said, that anyone had offered her money for the vote. 

"Tiyak na may gagawin silang hindi maganda kaya nila gusto manalo. Kasi kung wala naman okay lang na matalo. Kinabahan po ako. Tiyak na gagawa at gagawa 'yun ng way para ma-tigil 'yung video eh,” Anna said. 

Blatant distribution of money in this form is just one kind of vote buying. In the same town, other residents said they received rice with 500 or 1000 peso bills inside. 

Psychologist Rafael Salamat said vote buying is “When you go to people and you give them cash, food or any type of goods in exchange for ‘vote for me.'” 

Campaigning, on the other hand, is when a politician goes to a community, share his platform of government and leave.

Salamat said many voters in the Philippines are financially deprived and give more importance to having their needs met here and now than thinking of the ‘value’ of their votes. 

Hes said a person cannot fulfill the need to value truth and morality when there is a more urgent need to put food on the table. 

HOW MUCH IS YOUR VOTE? 

Police have arrested some 60 people, including several village officials, for alleged vote-buying in Makati since Saturday. Around P410,000 divided into P500 bills were confiscated from the suspects. 

Reports of vote-buying were also monitored by Commission on Elections in Muntinlupa, while former Sen. Heherson Alvarez also cited the illegal act as the reason for withdrawing from the congressional race in Isabela province. 

Comelec Education and Information director Frances Arabe noted that some bribes could go as low as 20 pesos to as much as 15,000 pesos. 

"Mayroong P20, P50 na ina-attach [ang mga kandidato] sa kanilang flyers. It can go as high as P15,000," she told DZMM.

No candidate has ever been disqualified or removed from his post due to vote-buying because complainants often back out of legal proceedings, Arabe said. 

The Department of the Interior and Local Government said vote-buying has evolved and is now offered on "installment." 

Based on reported information, barangay officials are even the ones in charge of distributing money to their constituents. 

“Napakaaga ng vote-buying. Installment na po ang vote-buying ngayon. 50 percent, 1 week before the elections. 50 percent pagka boto. Ganito kalala ngayon,” Undersecretary Jonathan Malaya said in a radio DZMM interview.

“Ang major distributor ng mga kaperahan ay ang mga barangay officials at ito ang dahilan kung bakit pinagbabawal ang mga officials na isali sa elections,” Malaya added. 

Salamat said the concept of "kapwa" and "pakikisama" also plays into the psychology of vote-buying. 

Often, people say they will just take the money and not vote for the said politician. However, the mere act of receiving money creates a perception that vote buying is okay.

"When you receive the money, you are part of the movement. You are going to have to listen to what they are going to say and it affects you," Salamat said. 

Manipulation begins when people actually listen and start to believe the politicians’ justifications for their actions as a form of help, when it is actually bribery.

"It is a shift in the cognitive framing. Either a conscious or unconscious paradigm shift that may affect a person because of the exponential way of how we think as a community. They would start to think that maybe this person is actually good. He helped me when I was in need and when I needed money to feed my family," Salamat said. 

[Embed: video of Roy Romulo, a resident of Pasig City speaks about vote buying] 

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BUYING VOTES

Most vote-buying politicians are candidates who have been in office for a long time. Salamat said these candidates are usually part of political dynasties. 

He said it is rare that a neophyte politician will try to bribe voters to vote for them because they are trying to introduce themselves as a new breed. 

Comelec said vote buying exists because old politicians can no longer do the "wholesale" cheating in forms of snatching ballot boxes and changing election returns. Ergo, they opt for retail cheating or vote buying on the level of individual voters. 

Vote-buying has been on the rise ever since the automation of election, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said. 

“Nare-recognize ng mga pulitiko na hindi nila kaya ang wholesale katulad ng nangyayari noon. Hindi nila maapektuhan 'yung outcome through wholesale cheating so sumusubok sila through retail cheating," he said.

Salamat said losing in an election is not something that these politicians will accept easily .

"When they lose, they don’t just say: 'Oh, okay, I’ll do whatever or do other forms of public service.' No. That means they lost. They lost power. So it's a big deal for them, that’s why they go out, no-holds-barred, walang preno. They go full cheating," he said. 

"The moment these politicians do vote-buying, they’ve already rationalized that they (the people) know they will get money from the country, and that is enough” 

VOTE BUYING, POOR PUBLIC SERVICE

Salamat said accepting money for votes becomes a politician's justification for corruption. 

"When a politician gives out money and a voter takes it, it's like a passive consent that you do understand na I'm going to get that back. It's like an unconscious agreement na if you take my money then I'm going to get more. I will give you some and then I'm going to keep more for myself," he said. 

Jimenez said while there is no empirical evidence to the effect that vote buyers are ineffective public officials, it still stands to reason that their motivation could be twisted.

"(Vote buyers could say) kung gumastos ako ng malaking malaki during the campaign season, anong motivation ko to give good service eh nabili ko nga 'yung eleksyon eh,” the Comelec spokesman said. 

He added: "Parang basically tinuturuan natin 'yung mga pulitiko na 'Oy, hindi pala sila kailangan maging magaling. Kailangan lang nila maging generous.'" 

Candidates who acquire their office through underhanded means will not think twice about being terrible officials, Jimenez said.

CORRUPTION, WITH BENEFITS

Salamat said one common refrain used to justify corruption is what benefit the voting public can get from the candidate.

"Yung inyo ba, hindi nga mag nanakaw pero may nagawa ba?” he said. 

(Your candidate may not be a thief but what has he done?) 

Salamat said this is a common argument between opposing parties during the election season or whenever there are discussions among political supporters. Instead of looking at the corruption committed by a candidate, the people just look at the "benefits" they bring. 

"A voter tries to change how they rationalize through time. This person made you buy milk for your child. On the other hand, they would think: 'Wala naman tangible effect 'yung mga promises ng ibang politicians sa buhay ko. At least ito may napala ako,'" he said.

Salamat said this type of grassroots corruption becomes cyclical as people look for doleouts come election season. 

"They feel like they are not empowered to vote for whomever they want and think long term kasi 'yung needs nila at the present pa nga lang problema na eh. How can they think long term? So you also cannot fault these people," he said. 

Jimenez also warned voters who are waiting for the "highest bidder' for their votes .

"If you are the kind of voter that goes to the Election Day waiting to be paid, waiting till you receive money, then God help you. 'Wag natin hahayaan mabili tayo ng kakarampot na pera lamang at ang kapalit ay 3 taon ng walang kwentang serbisyo," he said. 

“Mag isip po tayo ng ilang beses hanggang kailangan kung tatanggapin ba natin 'yan. Talo tayo diyan, talong talo, luging lugi tayo sa vote buying."