Dream of an empowered people...
posted 16-May-2019  ·  
1,529 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

     As usual, except for an incident in San Isidro Village, Virac where two natives of Palawan province were arrested, the May 13, 2019 national and local elections was marked by generally peaceful vote-buying by candidates who had the means to do so.

     For the top provincial posts, votes were bought in amounts ranging from P500 to P1,000 each, while in the mayoral races, particularly in tightly contested towns, candidates gave as much as P2,500 for each precious vote.

     The desperate desire to win did not spare aspirants for seats in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and the municipal councils, with the majority giving out cash of as much as P50, instant coffee, noodles, and plastic buckets of house goods.

     For the fifth straight local elections since 2004, when the late Engr. Diosdado Tabilin sneaked into the Virac SB as an independent bet, no one has won an elective post without buying votes.

     So widespread and so deeply ingrained is the voters’ appetite for money in exchange for their votes that appeals from the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Commission on Elections have gone unheeded.

     Sure, the COMELEC asked the public to report incidents of vote-buying but apparently only a few or perhaps none have responded.

     The lone incident of vote-buying in Virac, linked to the campaign of congressional aspirant Araceli Wong, is probably a targeted one, meaning the Catanduanes police needed an arrest to show higher headquarters they were doing their jobs. The fact that two outsiders were nabbed highlights the other fact that not one Catandunganon buying votes for local candidates ran afoul of the law.

     As one high official of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) pointed out, the authorities should no longer concentrate on arresting campaign personnel buying votes as well as voters who accept the payments.

     It should focus their attention on candidates who have the capability to buy votes, he said.

     How to do this, of course, poses a big problem for the police and the election officials. A candidate whose supporters are caught in the act of buying votes can just claim innocence of their underlings’ illegal act and attribute the violation to their opponents. There are many election lawyers at their bidding and the way the justice system works will ensure that the winners could finish their term before their cases are decided by the Courts.

     Depriving the candidates the huge amounts of peso bills they need can only do so much. According to local banking officials, the Bangko Sentral did not send a fresh infusion of new bills to the island, with its last delivery made in December 2018.

     And this, as well as the public reminder that banks would no longer accept bills with stickers and stapled paper, has not worked. The candidates simply secured their cash from banks in the mainland and in Metro Manila, while several bets anticipated the lack of bills during the campaign period by starting to collect the cash as early as last year.

     The only available option, therefore, is to appeal for the candidates not to buy votes and let their qualifications, character and accomplishments be judged by the electorate.

     The question is, do we still have such men and women of integrity who can follow through on a promise not to buy votes?

     Of course, there are still honorable people out there but they would not risk spending much time and effort to court voters when there remains a chance that one of them could turn to the dark side, buy votes and likely escape prosecution.

     As Vice President Leni Robredo underscored two weeks ago during her visit to Catanduanes, the people need to be empowered so they would realize that their individual votes, taken together, are a powerful tool for societal change.

     She urged local officials follow the example set by the late Naga City Mayor Jesse Robrero in creating their respective People’s Councils that would have a say in how local governments will be run.

     Until such time that such People’s Councils are actually working, the idea that the electorate can effect meaningful change, especially in the way we choose our leaders, will remain a dream.

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