Comelec also worried dead persons still on voters’ list for polls
Holding of raffles or giving away in-kind donations can be considered vote-buying, the Commission on Elections warned Monday as the 45-day campaign period for local candidates started last week.
“They probably think they could get away with it. Maybe they did get away with it before the campaign period and we said fine Peñera doctrine, but now that the local campaign period has started you can no longer cite Peñera,” Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez also expressed the agency’s concern that some deceased individuals who passed away amid the COVID-19 pandemic may still be included on the voters’ list.
Jimenez said that some of these cases could be used to question the credibility of the elections.
“I foresee that when election day comes, many of our citizens will still see the names of their relatives on the list because our delisting process is no longer able to keep up with the pace,” the spokesman said.
“Other people might see the names of their relatives, and that can be used as an argument that the elections are rigged,” he added.
The Peñera doctrine refers to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in 2009 which voided the prohibition on premature campaigning.
This means that expenses of candidates before the start of the campaign period are not covered by campaign guidelines.
Garcia said vote-buying does not necessarily involve giving money as cited in Section 261 of Omnibus Election Code.
“A promise can be considered vote-buying if that is what influences their vote. It’s not based on the amount. What’s important is that your intention in giving is to buy their vote,” he said.
The Comelec is set to constitute on Wednesday its Task Force Kontra Bigay which will be composed of several government agencies, including the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Philippine Information Agency.
The task force aims to act on its own initiative as well as on formal complaints involving vote-buying.
“We can give the task force the power to conduct motu proprio investigations, to gather evidence on their own, and to call and subpoena people, so we don’t have to depend on somebody filing a complaint,” Garcia said.
“The task force will go after them,” he added. “Anyone found guilty of these prohibited acts under the Omnibus Election Code will face penalties of imprisonment and fine.”
Jimenez explained that the names of the deceased are being removed from the voter’s list based on the records submitted by the local civil registrar.
“Our delisting process goes through the civil registry. So, if the civil registry cannot inform us about those who have passed away, we cannot remove their names either,” the spokesman said.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Monday launched its 40 days of prayer and discernment campaign for the May 9 polls.
The first day of the 40-day campaign will be on March 30.
“In 40 days, I hope we can do something. We can reach out to more people. The important thing here is that our voters will know exactly who the candidates are, so they won’t just vote because they were told to vote or were influenced by social media,” said Caritas Philippines Executive Secretary Fr. Antonio Labiao Jr.
“I hope we don’t vote because there is money in exchange for it or else, we already lose the sacredness of our vote, we surrender our power, and we would no longer have the right to speak because we have sold our power,” Labiao added.