“COMELEC has for the longest time turned a blind eye and deaf ear on vote-buying. In fact, no one has ever been disqualified for this prior to election day. Hence it goes on unabated and we end up proclaiming and electing officials who won despite breaking the law and would continue to break our laws once they are in office. This vicious and corrupting cycle must immediately end.”
This was the strong statement issued by Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership’s Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan” as he urged the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) to seriously address the problem of vote-buying in our country. According to Pangilinan, despite the fact that we all know that vote-buying is illegal and is very rampant every elections, not one candidate or government official has actually been penalized or punished for it. This is the reason why despite the fact that there is a law that clearly prohibits vote-buying, no one actually follows it since all of the candidates think that they can easily get away with it.
Necessary Fear: Creating an Anti-Vote-Buying Task Force
Pangilinan further challenged the COMELEC stating, “COMELEC must immediately create an anti-vote-buying task force whose sole mandate is to pursue disqualification cases against vote-buying politicians. I am certain that even if only 10 cases of vote-buying prosper and lead to the disqualification of these candidates then it will strike fear among the candidates and make them think twice before they engage in such illegal activities.”
This situation is similar to our penchant for not following simple laws in our country as can be seen by the people who continually choose to ignore pedestrian lanes and overpasses when crossing our streets. Yet, when these same people go to Singapore or other countries, they automatically become law-abiding citizens because they are afraid of the penalties that they would incur when they are caught violating the law. In short, Filipinos can be law-abiding and disciplined people if only the laws are properly enforced in our country.
Root of Corruption and Illegal activities
Sadly, vote-buying has also become one of the major causes of graft and corruption in our country. For example, one candidate would spend P1,000 per person to buy his or her vote. Assuming that there are 20,000 voters in a small municipality then that candidate would spend P20,000,000 just to be able to buy the votes of every voter in their town. A mayor earns only P40,000 per month or a total of P 1.44 Million for his whole 3-year term. This is less than 10% of the total amount that the candidate spends just to be able to win in the elections. Given this scenario, how can the candidate be able to get back these campaign funds and raise another P20 Million for his or her reelection bid? Your guess is as good as mine.
Is COMELEC helpless or useless?
On a more positive note, we have seen that in this election, when the COMELEC wants to enforce the law, they can do it. Proof of this is their recent campaign to clamp down on bogus party-list groups and on illegal campaign posters that candidates are used to placing everywhere. This has led to a much cleaner Metro Manila for all of us since gone are the days where every candidate would place their posters and other campaign materials wherever they want.
The challenge for COMELEC is to now do the same against candidates who continue to practice vote-buying in their communities. Disqualification cases should be filed against these candidates so that every Filipino will know that the COMELEC is not an inutile institution that is incapable of enforcing our election laws. This will enable COMELEC to create a level playing field in the elections wherein it will no longer be just the financially privileged and/or the corrupt leaders who can serve but it will now encourage more effective and ethical leaders to also run for public office. Unless this happens soon, the promise of COMELEC Chairman Sixto Brillantes, Jr. of a clean, well-run and honest 2013 elections will just remain as that, an unfulfilled promise.
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Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government and is also the Lead Convenor of the Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership.
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