The Philippine National Police said at least 20 incidents of vote-buying have been reported.
PNP spokesman Col. Jean Fajardo said 10 incidents are being investigated, three have been referred to the prosecutor’s office, and one has been filed before a court.
At least 15 suspects have been arrested while nine remain at large, she said.
The incidents, Fajardo said, were recorded in Ilocos, Cagayan, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Western Visayas, Zamboanga, Northern Mindanao, and Metro Manila.
The Commission on Elections on Monday urged the public to take photos and videos of people who distributed sample ballots on Election Day, which is against the law.
Comelec Commissioner George Garcia told a press briefing that the distribution of sample ballots is still considered as a form of campaigning, which was supposed to end on May 7.
“If you distribute sample ballots, that will be considered as campaigning even if you claim that the individuals who are distributing are supporters or leaders of their groups. That is a form of campaigning and we can still go after the candidates who authorized and distributed the sample ballots,” he said in Filipino.
Izah Katrina Reyes, of the watchdog group Lente, said the video and photographic evidence could later be used to identify those who broke the law.
Complaints, she said, could be sent to Lente or the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, through their hotlines.
Meanwhile, Quezon City Rep. Alfred Vargas said the Omnibus Election Code needs to be updated to provide stronger penalties against syndicated vote buying and “cyber vote buying” during elections.
“These provisions are over 30 years old. Sadly, those who seek to undermine the people’s right to vote have devised newer, more nefarious schemes that employ syndicated operations and modern technology,” Vargas said in a statement.
“If we were to uphold the integrity of the electoral process and protect the people’s right to suffrage, then the law must evolve,” he added.
At present, the law punishes vote buying with imprisonment of one to six years, “a punishment that does not reflect the importance of the right to suffrage, nor ascribe full value to our democratic ideals grounded on the electorate’s free and informed choice.”
The Vargas bill defines two new offenses, syndicated vote buying and cyber-vote buying. These acts have been widely documented in the Fifth District of Quezon City, and have been ascribed to an outsider candidate acting in conspiracy with local accomplices.
Vargas said in his explanatory note that the intensity of vote buying in his district is “unprecedented.”
Citing “ground reports, voluminous video and photograph records, and sworn statements,” Vargas said these vote-buying operations “work through a ‘pyramiding system’ where there is an active recruitment of networks of vote-buying accomplices.”
Vargas said the vote buying scheme utilizes identification cards with QR codes, stubs, and tickets, and are disguised as pandemic-related aid, scholarships, and fuel cards.
Earlier, special teams of policemen were formed to go after people engaged in vote buying and vote selling.
The teams — created in every city and provincial police command unit — are also tasked to investigate, gather evidence, and protect the witnesses in vote buying activities.
“This is a concrete effort of the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police to support the Commission on Elections and the interagency Task Force Kontra Bigay in ensuring a fraud-free election,” DILG Secretary Eduardo Año said.
“Evidence-based complaints will be acted upon and verified by the PNP Anti-Vote Buying Teams and will go through the same process of gathering evidence. These will be forwarded to the Comelec which has a motu proprio power, or on its own accord, file cases of violation of election laws,” he added.
The Comelec on Saturday said it was investigating at least 10 cases of alleged vote-buying.
In 2013, the Comelec disqualified two local candidates – one in Roxas, Isabela and another in Norzagaray, Bulacan – for vote buying.