Two and a half months before the May 9 elections, voters are hearing national candidates accusing each other of vote buying.
There was a video of Vice President Jejomar Binay distributing hundred-peso bills to people on a queue. It looked so bad that his daughter, the senator, had to explain that it was taken at Christmastime. They had such a tradition, she said.
And now the Binay camp is accusing the administration presidential candidate, former Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, of using the funds from the conditional cash transfer program to buy the votes of the poor.
We don’t actually know what it being assailed: the idea of buying votes itself, or the fact that the Liberal Party is using government money to which it has access.
Vote buying, whatever the fund source, is reprehensible. But selling one’s vote is a personal decision by the voter, and personal decisions cannot be legislated or regulated. This is what makes it difficult to slay.
The lines are blurred. When does one say exactly that the votes have been bought? An incumbent official or his agents handing out cash to constituents may be outrightly branded as vote buying, but what if the incumbent delivers relief during a calamity or provides funds for a basketball team’s uniforms or a burial? In both instances, goodwill is created, the official shows himself benevolent, and the constituent decides this is a person worthy of his vote.
For the man on the street struggling to make ends meet, the primary consideration is likely not the credentials or even the honesty of a candidate but his or her ability to make people’s lives better on a day-to-day basis. Is there going to be food on the table, are there going to be jobs, will there be greater access to education and other social services?
Candidates are well aware of this and exploit it to the hilt. That many voters are on survival mode, ready to compromise their decision for short-term gain speaks ill of politics in this country. This is why, too, they resist, even scoff at, efforts to improve voter education. They benefit from an unthinking voting population.
It is too much to ask of politicians to help enlighten voters to think hard. That would be going against their interest and their nature.