The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday said it will create a task force that will investigate and prosecute all reports and allegations of vote-buying during the 2022 elections, Commissioner George Garcia said Tuesday.
He made the statement in response to a video of Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla handing out cash prizes during a campaign rally of the tandem of presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and vice-presidential candidate Sara Duterte-Carpio.
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police has reiterated its call for candidates to strictly comply with campaign protocols in conducting rallies, assemblies, and other related political activities with only 48 days left until the general election on May 9.
In a statement Monday night, PNP chief Gen. Dionardo Carlos said candidates “should make sure that (there are) proper coordination with authorities concerned to assist them in the security and crowd control.”
Carlos made the remark ahead of the start of the campaign period for local candidates on Friday.
“The commission will create a task force to address such reports, complaints and whatever. The Comelec can motu proprio investigate. The Comelec can always direct its field personnel to immediately submit reports to us. But we’ll have a task force for quicker actions.,” Garcia said.
“The task force will have members coming also from the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Department of Justice,” Garcia added.
Carlos, meanwhile, reminded organizers not to be complacent despite the easing of in-person campaign rules by the Comelec.
“Please avoid bringing huge sum(s) of money, jewelry, items of value, and small children,” the police chief said.
Last week, the poll body scrapped the rule on obtaining permits from its campaign committee for the holding of rallies in areas under Alert Levels 1 and 2.
Campaign activities have also been allowed at 100 percent capacity and 70 percent capacity for Alert Level 1 and 2 areas, respectively.
Previously, only 70 percent capacity was allowed for campaign activities in areas under Alert Level 1, while 50 percent capacity was permitted under Alert Level 2.
However, handshakes, kissing, and taking selfies remain prohibited under the relaxed campaign rules amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As this developed, the PNP chief said they have identified various hotspots, particularly in Mindanao which would be part of their areas of concern for the May 9 elections.
Carlos said he had visited Butuan as well as Caraga and Soccsksargen regions.
“We are undergoing a continuous assessment. Come April 4, we will meet again (with the military) to discuss if the situation has improved or taken for the worse, so we can take more concrete actions including the deployment of more police officers,” he said.
Replying to questions, he said they were able to identify a few armed groups in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao and Soccskargen.
Carlos said they would also monitor the situation in the Samar provinces to make sure that communist rebels in these areas will not cause any trouble.
Comelec’s Garcia, meanwhile, reminded the public that vote buying could not be committed until the official campaign period had begun.
The official campaign period began on February 8 for national position candidates, and will begin this Friday, March 25, for local position aspirants.
Garcia added: “We always remind everyone about the Pinera doctrine.
Technically, the local campaign period has not yet started. What is ongoing now is for the national positions. So let us always remember that.”
Vote-buying is a violation under the Omnibus Election Code. It is punishable by imprisonment, disqualification from public office and the loss of the right to vote.
Garcia said: “I hope that aside from our directive to local offices of Comelec to submit reports involving vote buying, there will also be people who will file complaints.”
Garcia underscored the importance of filing formal complaints of vote-buying before the poll body.
Last week, Garcia said those who sell their votes might be penalized.
Meanwhile, the supposed data leak into tech firm Smartmatic is largely unrelated to the May 9 polls but still needs to be further investigated, an election watchdog said Tuesday.
The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting said majority of information that was leaked were reportedly those used in past elections.
“Based on the information we’ve seen in the public so far, none of the pieces of information would affect the current elections directly, at least the running of the current elections,” Dr. William Yu, trustee and IT lead of PPCRV, told ANC’s “Rundown”.
“But we strongly encourage the Comelec and law enforcement authorities to dig deeper because clearly there was a leak that happened.”
The election watchdog earlier said that in the alleged breach that happened in January, the compromised data was from past elections.
In related developments, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez maintained that the nearly 106,000 ballots for the May 9 polls considered defective represented only a small percentage of the total number of ballots to be printed, and that they were still within the “margin of error.”
Asked during a Laging Handa briefing if a huge amount of money was wasted due to the printed defective ballots, Jimenez said, “We don’t think that will happen. In fact, this number of defective ballots we have so far, as I understand, is still within the margin of error of these kinds of projects.”
Garcia noted Monday that a total 105,853 ballots that were found with smudges, improper cuts and colors, or unmatched timestamps would be burned in front of candidates, political parties, or their representatives.
At least 82.4 pecent or 55,579,298 ballots out of 67,432,616 total ballots had been printed by the National Printing Office (NPO).
The remaining 18 percent of ballots yet to be printed could, however, not be assured to be defect-free, Garcia said.
But the waste and pollution watchdog group EcoWaste Coalition urged Comelec not to proceed with its reported plan to burn nearly 106,000 defective ballots for the May 9 polls.
“We appeal to our poll authorities to reconsider their plan to burn the defective ballots, which can be safely recycled instead,” said Jove Benosa, Zero Waste Campaigner, EcoWaste Coalition.
Instead of burning the 105,853 flawed ballots, which will completely destroy such recyclable materials while adding to air pollution, the group requested Comelec to have them shredded or simply kept in a secure place for recycling after the polls.
“The Comelec can borrow shredding machines from government offices and pay a team of informal waste workers for the job of cutting the defective ballots into strips,” Benosa suggested.
“Alternatively, Comelec can store the defective ballots in a secure warehouse, lock them up and have them collected for recycling after the polls,” he said in a press statement.