The spokesman of the Commission on Election clarified Thursday that Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo could not be held criminally liable for her earlier statement regarding vote buying.
“I don’t see any liability for her now. I think it is not something that should have been said, but in terms of criminal liability, I don’t really see it,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez told CNN Philippines’ The Source.
In a recent forum, Robredo, a candidate for president in the May 9, 2022 elections, said voters could accept money offered by candidates but must vote according to their conscience.
According to Jimenez, several candidates also made the same comments on the issue of vote buying, and if Robredo would be criminally liable, it would mean the Comelec would also have to investigate others.
“I would say, then we would have to probe everyone who ever said that. Remember it’s not just one person who said that, multiple candidates have actually said that,” said Jimenez who earlier said he disagreed with the notion of taking the money and voting according to one’s conscience.
In the case of another presidential aspirant, Senator Manuel Pacquiao, who gave money to residents during his recent visit in Batangas, Jimenez said campaign rules applied “only at the start of the campaign period” which would start in February for those running for national posts.
But Pacquiao defended himself from giving cash assistance to the poor and the needy, stressing that this did not amount to vote buying.
Even before he filed his candidacy for president, Pacquiao said he had been used to handing money to the people since he did not know the kind of help they needed.
“I have been giving help since 2002 . Aside from relief packs, the reason for our cash assistance is that we do not know what they need. Our help comes from hard-earned money and not from the nation’s coffers,” the world boxing champ-turned politician said.
The poll body urged candidates not to engage in vote buying, promising money or offering anything of value to voters, saying the practice was a ground for disqualification.
Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code states there is vote-buying when a person “gives, offers or promises money or anything of value” to induce anyone to vote for or against any candidate.
Vote buying is an election offense, which carries a penalty of one to six years imprisonment as well as the removal of right to vote and be voted on.
For his part, Senator Panfilo Lacson, who is running under Partido Reporma, said: “If voters think that accepting money or selling their votes is the only way to immediately benefit from a politician, they should be aware that they would suffer for a longer period in return.”
Meanwhile, aspirants for the two top elective posts in the country will face one another in face-to-face debates ahead of the May 2022 polls, Jimenez said.
“It will be a face-to-face (debate) among candidates. Candidates will be in the same place and will be debating in person but the audience will be virtual,” he said, adding they were planning to have six debates.
“We are looking to have essentially six debates — three for president and three for vice president. We have three presidential debates as a general rule,” Jimenez added.
Jimenez added they were also looking to add more debate schedules for those vying for the second highest post in the land.
“This time we are hoping to expand the number of VP (vice president) debates seeing how VP is elected independently of the president. They might have their own debate series,” he said.
To avoid the coaching of candidates for president, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon backed Comelec’s position that the debate should be done face-to-face and not virtually or online.
“Precisely, the possibility of coaching will diminish the credibility of the debates as a test of the candidates’ competence to lead the country for the next six years,” Drilon said.
“That is why my preference is a face-to-face debate,” he added.