Why Filipinos sell their votes, and for how much

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — It is illegal to buy and sell votes.

However, this has been the practice for many Filipinos.

For two decades now, politicians have been hiring Juan, not his real name, as a pook (local) leader tasked to buy votes during elections.

He said there are different ways to buy votes, including what he calls "gapangan."

Juan said on the eve of election day, pook leaders would visit a stronghold of his client's opponent.

Pook leaders would pay residents about ₱1,000 each to boycott the polls.

"Kakausapin namin kung ilan ang botante sa pamilya nila. Ilan kayong botante dito? 'Wag nalang kayo bumoto, babayaran na lang namin kayo. Kasi alam namin ang iboboto nila, kalaban namin," Juan told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: We ask them how many voters there are in their family. How many among you vote? Don't vote anymore, we will just pay you. Because we know that they will only vote for our opponent.]

He said someone from their group will stay in the barangay to make sure residents they talked to will stay in their houses on election day.

"May magbabantay na noon tapos ang bigayan noon yung malapit na matapos ang botohan," he added.

[Translation: Somebody will watch over the voters. The payment will be given after voting hours.]

Juan said another scheme on election day: pook leaders would ask voters to go to a certain area where they would list down their names and where they will be briefed before voting.

At the precinct, voters will be required to show who they voted for to the watcher in the precinct also hired by Juan's local candidate.

"Bago nila ihulog (yung balota), bukas yun. Makikita mo na kung sino binoto mo," Juan explained.

[Translation: The ballot should be open before they drop it in the machine. The watcher will then see who they voted for.]

He said even teachers, who serve as election supervisors and inspectors, are aware of this scheme.

"Kahit nga minsan mga teachers alam dahil nabibigyan din 'yun. Rapos pag nakaboto ka na, mag indelible ka na, pupunta ka na uli doon sa lugar na ano, saka ka babayaran," Juan said.

[Translation: Even teachers are aware of this scheme because they too are on the take. Then once you've cast your vote and your finger already has an indelible ink, you need to go to the meet-up place where you will be paid.]

For choosing Juan's mayor, each voter gets ₱1,000.

As for the watchers, they get about ₱300 each to make sure voters indeed shaded the circle in the ballot for Juan's candidate.

Watchers are also required to vote for the same bet.

"Ang kapalit pa noon, 'pag nanalo ang kandidato mo pwede kang maging empleyado ngayon ng munisipyo. 'Pag nag-apply ka, o roving watcher ako, matatanggap ka agad kasi nakatulong ka na. Legal na binili mo ang ano nya," Juan said.

[Translation: In exchange for working as a watcher, if your candidate wins, you can work as an employee in the municipal hall. If you apply, you can invoke that you served as a roving watcher during elections. You will be easily accepted because you helped the candidate. It's like a legal way of buying a vote.]

Sometimes, when the election is too close to call, Juan said, a so-called bidding war on voters takes place between opposing candidates.

"Kunwari malapit na oras ng election, noong umpisa ng bilihan siyempre magsa-start yan, 500. Malalaman mo na yung kabilang ano, nag-1,000. Magsisimula na 'yun, 1,000 na rin ang ano nyan, bilihan. hanggang sa mag-election," he added.

[Translation: For example, payoffs start at ₱500 at the beginning of the campaign season. However, once you find out that your opponent is buying votes for ₱1,000, the bidding war will begin. You will also buy votes for ₱1,000. This will go on until election day.)

Juan said there's nothing wrong buying votes.

He justified the act to counter the same scheme adopted by their opponents.

"Kung 'di namin gagawin 'yun, walang ibang gagawa, puro kalaban lang namin gagawa nun. Hindi namin ma-aawat. hindi namin makokontra ginagawang sabihin na natin, mali ginagawa ng kalaban naming kandidato. Tinatapatan lang namin na ganun," Juan argued.

[Translation: Even if we won't do it, our opponents will still buy votes. We cannot stop them. Let's say what we are doing is wrong. If we stop, we won't be able to block what they are doing. We are just trying to match what they are doing.]

Why sell votes

CNN Philippines talked to some residents who admitted selling their votes or claimed they know "someone" who sold his or her vote.

Some voters, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted to selling their votes. They admitted difficulty in saying 'no' when an offer is made to them.

Worse, some think accepting money in exchange for votes is acceptable.

Antonio* (*not his real name) said the transaction was fast and easy. He added he did not ask for it.

"Na-experience ko na rin 'yan 'yung pagkatapos bumoto, pasimple kang aabutan," he said. "Inabot sayo, hindi mo naman hiningi. Basta inabot lang sayo 'yun," he said.

[Translation: I experienced that too. After I voted, I was subtly given money]

Gloria* said she was invited by neighbors to go to a place where money was distributed. She said poverty is a factor to sell votes.

"Sabi sabi lang nila, punta tayo doon, meron daw dito abutan… 'Yung iba kasi, e pera na 'yan e. hindi naman nila alam sino iboto ko. Tanggap lang sila nang tanggap," Gloria said.

[Translation: They said we should go there because they are giving away money there… For some, that's money. They wouldn't know who we would vote for. That's why they just accept money again and again]

For Evelyn*, it's not wrong to accept money from politicians since these are public funds anyway.

"Pera din po 'yun ng bayan e. 'Di po ba? Pera 'yun ng bayan e. 'Di naman galing sa bulsa nila 'yun e," another one argued.

[Translation: Those are public funds, anyway. Those did not come from their own pockets.]

Some said they accepted the money but did not vote for the candidate.

But some said, they feel indebted to those who gave them money, so they vote for the bribe giver.

"Kung tumanggap ka ng pera, kailangan mo rin talaga sila iboto. Kawawa naman din kasi, nandun ka na sa kabila tapos binigyan ka," one said.

[Translation: If you accepted money from a politician, you need to vote for him/her. It would be pitiful not to vote for him or her after they gave you money.]

Based on a study the Ateneo School of Government (ASOG) on the prevalence of vote buying among the poor in Metro Manila, about 40 percent of the poor they surveyed said they saw vote buying take place in their community while only 20 percent admitted to selling their votes.

ASOG Dean Ronald Mendoza said this shows many Filipinos still know it is wrong to sell votes, that's why many are still not comfortable admitting to the act.

Of those who admitted selling their votes, two of three said they voted for the candidate who made the offer.

Mendoza said vote buying is more rampant in areas where the battle among candidates is close.

"We found also that only in the most contested areas are there very intensive vote buying. Yung pera ang ginagamit, at nakikita namin, kung saan malapit ang labanan, doon pera talaga ang pinapairal," Mendoza explained. 

[Translation: That's where money is utilized. What we saw, where the competition is strong, that's where vote buying is rampant.]

From the regular rate of ₱500, Mendoza said payoffs can go as high as ₱1,500 to ₱2,000.

"I think vote-buying decides who wins in those intensely competitive areas," Mendoza said.

He said many Filipinos also sell votes because of lost faith in democracy. They would rather think of self benefits before that of the nation.

"People may sell their votes because they do not necessarily see the collective benefits trickling down to them… There's a possibility that we have become very very parochial in our view of the democracy. Ano ba ang makukuha namin dyan? Ano ba ang magaganansya namin dyan? (What can we get from that candidate? What can we benefit from the candidate?) When you say amin (ours), it could be yourself, your immediate family, or your clan," Mendoza said.

Mendoza, however, urged voters to look past their personal benefit and consider the collective good when they cast their votes.

He said when the wrong persons win, all of us suffer from the consequences.

"Kung maling tao ang ilagay natin diyan (If you elect the wrong person into public office), the possibility is they will begin to rationalize, because I spent so much getting elected, then I must somehow get that back. And it's okay to get that back kasi sakin din naman ang takbo niyo e (because you will run to me if you need financial help)," Mendoza said.