Massive vote buying was reported as the polls opened Monday—leading President Rodrigo Duterte to call the practice “an integral part” of Philippine elections.
The Philippine National Police said more than 300 people were arrested for vote buying in different parts of the country.
“As of 1 p.m. today (Monday), the PNP National Election Monitoring Action Center (NEMAC), has recorded a total of 120 incidents with 302 violators,” PNP chief Gen. Oscar Albayalde told reporters in a press briefing in Camp Crame.
The National Capital Region Police Office recorded seven cases of vote buying and selling in Metro Manila, particularly in the cities of Makati, Muntinlupa, Malabon and Quezon City.
NCRPO chief information officer Myrna Diploma said the City of Makati had the highest number of arrests with 60, followed by Quezon City with 54; Muntinlupa with 17; and Malabon with three.
Diploma said as of noon Monday, 134 people were arrested, detained and slapped with election offenses.
She added that police confiscated P515,900 from those arrested for vote buying.
The night before the midterm elections, police arrested Quezon City mayoral candidate Vicente “Bingbong” Crisologo for obstruction of justice for his supposed involvement in a vote buying incident. He was released Monday for further investigation.
Police arrested at least 50 people, including barangay officials, accused of vote buying and selling in Makati City.
The authorities also recovered P410,000 divided into P500 bills from the suspects, along with lists of voters and precincts in Barrangay San Isidro, according to the National Capital Region Police Office.
NCRPO chief Guillermo Eleazar said among those arrested were the barangay treasurer, secretary and administrative officer who were caught inside the barangay hall.
He said 52 others had been arrested since Friday for allegedly selling votes.
But on Monday, the Makati City Prosecutors Office ordered the release of the eight barangay officials and 52 residents of San Isidro.
Lawyer Jose Solis said the order came after evidence was presented disproving the NCRPO allegations as false and inaccurate.
In Negros Occidental, vote buying suspects were arrested by police in the towns of Moises Padilla and E.B. Magalona hours before voting started on Monday.
Around 11:30 p.m. on Sunday, a total of 28 persons, including three minors, were arrested in Barangay 7 in the town proper of Moises Padilla.
One group was found in possession of 600 sample ballots. Twelve more sample ballots, each folded along with two P500 bills, were also seized from their companions.
In Lanao del Norte, troops from the Army’s 1st Infantry Division arrested five political supporters suspected of vote buying and seized more than P1 million cash in two separate areas, military officials said.
Brig. Gen. Roberto Ancan, the Army’s 1st Infantry Division commander, said Monday the political supporters allegedly involved in vote-buying activity were arrested early Sunday by military and police operatives in Barangay Bualan, Tubod, Lanao del Norte.
Ancan said the arrest was made in coordination with the Tubod election officer, following the reported presence of the suspects engaged in vote buying in Barangay Bualan in that town.
Ancan did not release the identities of the suspects, who were caught in possession of P123,868 cash, sample ballots, and other campaign paraphernalia.
Meanwhile, government troops recovered a paper bag containing P1 million on Saturday in Barangay Dapiwak, Dumingag, Zamboanga del Sur.
Lt. Col. Rufino de Leon, the Army’s 97th Infantry Battalion commander, said the paper bag containing money was recovered after the troops received information from concerned citizens regarding the presence of “goons” who were buying votes and harassing residents in Barangay Dipawak.
Amid these arrests, President Duterte said vote buying could take many forms, and that it was all right for voters to take money—not to sell their votes but to use it to buy food and to cover their transportation costs.
In remarks after casting his vote in Davao City, the President said vote buying was necessary in the history of elections.
“The practice of buying votes has been an integral part of elections in the Philippines. There are no votes which you cannot buy here, believe me,” Duterte told reporters.
“When you start to give money, this is what I told Comelec. It’s not because I’m buying the vote of the fellow, it’s because I’m giving him money to go to the precinct, cast his vote, and go home,” he added.
The President said curbing vote buying was difficult because it takes many forms.
Despite official prohibitions, Duterte said he believed in feeding his supporters and poll watchers, saying he could not let his leaders go hungry.
“Not all people have money. Or you send food to your leaders who are here sacrificing and waiting for the food to eat so that they can last until the last vote is counted,” he said.
“For as long as the Philippines remains a poor country, for as long as the feudal system exists, especially in rural areas aggravated by the communists, that [vote buying happens],” he added.
Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, however, said Filipinos should not view vote buying as a normal occurrence, saying the poll body would prosecute those who buy or sell their votes.
In a previous speech, Duterte told supporters it was fine to accept money even as the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting reminded the public that it was a sin to sell their vote.
The President said he had no problem handing out fare to supporters who attended the Hugpong ng Pagbabago campaign rally in Davao on Friday.
“Just tell them, you took the money, not for the vote but because you want your fare to get home,” he said.
The Comelec last week launched an anti-vote buying task force with the PNP, the Department of the Interior and Local Government, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Officials said the task force aimed to expedite the investigation and prosecution of vote buying cases.
But the poll watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) said the crackdown on vote buying, while positive, could be open to abuse.
“This process may be used as a way for electoral combatants to hinder their opposition. We must call on the Philippine National Police to ensure impartiality when it comes to holding election law violators accountable,” Lente said in a statement said.
Election law penalizes vote buying and selling with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years with no probation.
Those convicted will also be disqualified from holding public office and be deprived of the right of suffrage. Political parties found guilty will be fined not less than P10,000. With PNA