The inconvenient truth of trading votes for cold, hard cash

By Atty. Anfred P. Panes, LLM

The national legislation inscribed in the letters of Section 13 of Republic Act No. 9369 or the Automated Election System Law, that any person who files his certificate of candidacy shall only be considered a candidate at the start of the campaign period for which he filed his certificate of candidacy. It contemplates a scenario in which the unlawful acts or omissions applicable to a candidate shall take effect only upon the start of the aforesaid campaign period.

Further, the case of Penera vs COMELEC elucidated the dictum that it is only after said person officially becomes a candidate, at the beginning of the campaign period, can said unlawful acts or omissions be considered as premature campaigning under Section 80 of the Omnibus Election Code. Only after said person officially becomes a candidate, at the start of the campaign period, can his/her disqualification – if any – be sought for acts constituting an election offense. Furthermore, even a voter who “sold” his vote may only be prosecuted for an election offense during the aforestated campaign period, under Section 261 of the same Code.

Exempli gratia, vote-buying is a widespread issue to warrant said disqualification of a candidate.  However, as of press time, the campaign period to seek the same is not yet legally ripe.  Nonetheless, what may be had of the moral politics when money is inserted in the equation? Here it goes.

Ours is a politics of economic machinery more than social and political capital. While vote-buying is an effort of a politician to establish clientelism to which trust and favor of the voter is anchored on the cold, hard cash or gifts-in-kind given by the politician, the determining factor however is still more rooted in the ideological position and evidence-based perception of a voter.

Notwithstanding, playing with money in the field somehow affects the equation because of the concept of utang na loob or indebtedness which is embedded in the Philippine socio-political culture.  While this is not determinative of the voting culture of our entire nation, it has become commonplace for candidates to try and forge a strong patronage relationship with their constituents even before the election period. The downside, however, is that those who possess the money to advance their campaigns, taking into account the popularity contest-type of culture in Philippine elections, are often the ones who illegally siphon the nation’s wealth into their own pockets.  Our history books, with judicially-recognized facts, do not lie.

The socio-economic status quo shows that a bulk of the Philippine population belongs to the low-income stratum. Exacerbated by the financial challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, even those belonging to the middle class are struggling to make ends meet which highlights that money is potentially a piece of defining machinery in electoral campaigns and politicians take advantage of the same. Vote-buying among low-income voters has become a strategic electioneering mechanism for those seeking public elective office.  It is a bitter pill to swallow, but reality bites.

It is high time that we dismiss the idea of money as equivalent to loyalty during elections. It is not the solution. We cannot allow ourselves to be short-sighted of the deceptive mechanisms of those who want to perpetuate their power in the office by means of buying the electorate’s votes because once in power, they will employ all means to recover their diminished capital – by a hundredfold. Trading votes for money and one’s dignity will be the downfall of our democracy. It will be the downfall of our nation’s dream of having a government anchored on competence, accountability, integrity, under a morally upright leadership.

All things considered, can we still change the narrative that Philippine elections are at the mercy of those who can afford to win, who can afford to buy the electorate? Can we re-write the practice of an election mobilized by cold, hard cash? Refuse the envelopes. Safeguard your votes. And eventually, we can.