Anti-vote buying task force to pursue violators even after elections

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 8) — The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) joined forces with other local agencies on Wednesday to address the country's vote buying problem as the midterm elections are closing in.

COMELEC, along with the Interior and Local Government Department, the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police, warned candidates that they can face charges for buying votes even after they have won the elections.

COMELEC Commissioner Al Parreno said officials charged with vote buying will face perpetual disqualification from holding public office. Although they cannot ascertain how long the legal process for the complaint will take, Parreno assured that the accused can face the consequences even after polls close, including losing their position.

"Isang mandate nitong task force is that we will pursue these cases even after the elections. Kakasuhan din namin yung mismong mga politicans na nagbigay even after the elections. Yun po ang napagagree-han ng task force, " he said.

[Translation: One of the mandates of this task force is that we will pursue these cases even after the elections. We will file cases against politicians who offer money even after the elections. That is what the task force has agreed to.]

DILG spokesperson Jonathan Malaya said the task force will also allow the public to have a consolidated group to seek counsel should they need to file a complaint against a candidate for vote-buying.

However, Parreno added that they are limited to monitoring complaints that have been filed with the COMELEC. For cases filed with the Justice Department, they would still need to coordinate with justice officials on how to go about them.

COMELEC Chair Sheriff Abas added that the vote buying offense also includes "bigas politics" or buying votes in exchange for rice or other goods.

"Basta ang kanyang intention is to buy votes then kasama po 'yun," he said.

[Translation: As long as the intention is to buy votes then that is included]

The public is also prohibited from selling their votes, COMELEC added. If caught offering votes in exchange for commission, both the seller and the candidate buying the vote will be charged with the violation.

Offenders may also face jail time of up to six years according to the law.

Malaya surmised that vote buying continues to be rampant in the country due to the government's seemingly flawless automated electoral equipment.

"One of the possible reasons kung bakit lumalaki ang vote-buying [why vote-buying is still common in the country] kasi wala naman masyadong dayaan sa ibang aspeto ng ating electoral system [is because there are no options left to cheat the electoral system]," Malaya said.

"Yung vote counting machines ng ating COMELEC have proven to be tamper proof. Wala nang iba eh [There is no other way] so the politicians have now resorted to vote buying. That is the only way to rig the system," he added.