Please don’t sell your votes, it’s sacred

AS nearly 62 million registered voters may troop to poling centers across the country today to choose their bets from a total of 43,695 candidates, I join the multitudes that  are calling for a total stop on vote-buying and selling of votes. Please don’t sell your sacred votes.

Frankly, I am touched by the presence of many ordinary Juan and Juana dela Cruz who have voiced their concern against selling of votes and vote-buying and am hoping and praying that Filipinos will learn from their past mistakes and be wise enough to elect worthy candidates.

Besides, although the fact remains that no one is yet to be sent to jail for vote-buying or selling of votes, I think the law of averages will sooner or later catch up with the violators. May I make it clear to everybody that vote-buying is punishable by a prison term of one to six years, disqualification to hold public office, and deprivation of the right to vote.

Records show that there are 61,843,750 registered voters nationwide who will be choosing from a total of 43,695 candidates including 273 gubernatorial bets, 185 vice-gubernatorial bets, 1,765 candidates for Sangguniang Panlalawigan posts; 632 candidates for congressional seats;  3,996 mayoralty bets composed of 428 vying for city mayoral post and 3,568 municipal mayoral post; 3,642 vice-mayoralty candidates; and 33,148 candidates for city and municipal councilors. I can’t imagine how much money would be spent if only half of the candidates would resort to vote-buying.

Sad to say, dozens of complaints against vote-buyers have already reached the attention of our authorities with the police already arresting 24 individuals for allegedly commiting the offense which is a violation of the Omnibus Election Code.  My friend, PNP Director for Operations, Major General Ma-o Aplasca said that the vote-buying incidents have been recorded in Regions 4-A, 5 and Cordillera Administrative Region.

PNP chief, General Oscar Albayalde this week called on his men to maintain their neutrality and have a ‘zero tolerance’ on vote-buying activities in their areas as candidates ramped up their campaign before today’s national and local elections.

I was listening when the PNP chief renewed his instruction in the wake of two suspected ‘vote-buying’ incidents in Calabarzon region discovered by the police recently: one in Bacoor City in Cavite and the other in Tagkawayan, Quezon.

As another friend, Calabarzon police director, Brigadier General Ted Carranza had said, “we will not stop going after these persons who are trying to tarnish the credibility of this year’s election. We will show them that we will not tolerate any election fraud or irregularities in whatever means.”

The PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the Cavite Police Provincial Office have filed charges for violation of Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code against 10 persons they arrested for allegedly engaging in vote-buying in Bacoor City the other Saturday.

The 10 suspects were arrested in the act of allegedly distributing small brown envelopes each containing a P200 bill. Recovered from their possession were brown envelopes containing a total of P200,000, P83,500 in different denominations, plastic bag containing red wristbands and one red notebook containing a list of persons.

On the other hand, combined agents of the PNP Highway Patrol Group and the Quezon police arrested a suspected ‘vote-buyer’ in Tagkawayan, Quezon last Tuesday. Suspect Fredilino Cunanan, said to be a supporter of a local candidate yielded dozens of Sample Ballots of Tagkawayan mayoralty candidate Roberto ‘Bombel’ de Vero with each ballot containing P500.

The discovery was made shortly after officers flagged down Cunanan for violation of the Helmet Law along the highway in Barangay Tabason, Tagkawayan, Quezon 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. Those incidents have prompted Carranza to instruct his men to keep a close watch on areas where incidents of vote-buying were prevalent in the past and may continue to exist to date.

Gen. Albayalde said those arrests manifests the keen resolve of the PNP to implement all election laws and resolution of the Comelec against election offenses and other prohibited acts during the election period. “It is contrary to what was misunderstood that we tolerate or encourage vote-buying. We will never allow any illegal act of vote-buying and we will implement all elections laws without fear or favor,” said Gen. Albayalde.

Officials said that the regular buying rate for votes is at P500 each but in some areas where the competition is very tight, the payoffs have increased to P1,500, P2,000 or even P5,000 and up. During the 2013 and 2016 elections, the Comelec received 171 complaints on vote-buying with only six cases filed in court.

I still remember a complaint from a police officer-friend in Cavite during the 2010 national and local elections. It stemmed from an incident in which a retired military official-turned supporter of a candidate in the local election was killed in a firefight with policemen who responded to reports the latter and his companions were engaged in vote-buying.

During the hearing of the case, I learned that the candidate and his group maintained that the bundles of money, P100, P500 and P1,000 bills stapled in sample ballots seized from the slain retired military man were not theirs and that they were not engaged in vote-buying.

Only in The Philippines.