“Communicating hope and trust in our time.”

- Pope Francis

Peaceful elections

THE recently concluded Barangay and Sanguniang Kabataan Elections have been generally peaceful. This was the official statement of PNP chief Dir. Gen. Oscar Albayalde: “The election was generally peaceful nationwide. There were some reports of shooting incidents today… but nobody was hurt in these incidents.”

Nobody will refute that. This was the general observation substantiated by statistics and even by media reportage. But only if peace is seen as the absence of violence and when nobody gets hurt—physically, that is. When one looks at elections from a larger perspective, things turn out differently. Take vote-buying, for instance. The “hurt” and “violence” that it has impacted on Philippine society is undeniably tremendous for many decades now. It begets corruption to astronomic proportions in all branches and levels of government. Hordes of goons and thieves are catapulted into powerful government offices because they are the most moneyed and always the highest bidder in the buying of votes.

Vote buying has become part of the political culture of Filipinos. Reportedly, in some barangays in Eastern Samar the money paid for a vote would even raise from Five Hundred to a thousand. Unless they were supported by incumbent mayor or governor or even congressman, which is very likely, it goes beyond mathematics how a barangay captain could recoup his expenses from his monthly barangay stipend. On the other hand, commendable were the principled candidates who won but did not vote-buy, such as a Kagawad in Brgy Hindang in Borongan who got the 7th place.

This is one of the backdrops when Catholic bishops commented in their Pastoral Exhortation on Philippines Politics (1996), thus: “Philippine politics—the way it is practiced—has been most hurtful of us as a people. It is possibly the biggest bane in our life as a nation and the most pernicious obstacle to our achieving of full human development.”

Vote-buying being so common and comfortably embedded already into the Filipino psyche, has become socially acceptable and, therefore, remorseless. Although a criminal act and, probably a sin, nobody thinks about it that way. According to Section 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines (Batas Pambansa Blg. 881), vote-buying and vote-selling are among the prohibited acts which are punishable with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six year, or with disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage, among others. In May 2013 National Elections, the Comelec issued Resolution No. 9688, which provides the warrantless citizens arrest of persons engaged in vote buying or selling. It is amusing and even funny how some laws are too stringent but toothless in implementation.

Seriously, there can never be peaceful elections where there is vote buying and selling.

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