An ineluctable facet of Philippine elections

"Even education will be inadequate if people cannot tell the difference between right and wrong."


Vote buying was rampant once again all over the country, and President Rodrigo Duterte called it “an integral part” of Philippine elections that will exist as long as there are poor Filipinos.

Palace spokesperson Salvador Panelo said education is essential to addressing these issues. “We have to make our country progressive so that everybody will have comfortable lives … But before that, we have to educate them first. If we lack education, we will only have more problems,” he said.

While news reports say that “hundreds” have so far been arrested in connection with vote buying in the 2019 midterm elections, it’s more than likely that these are small fry and the politicians behind them will remain untouched. I would love to be proved wrong, though.

Was there a budget for vote buying that absolutely had to be spent in entirety? After she cast her vote, a friend of mine was slipped a five hundred peso bill by a person purporting to represent one of the mayoral candidates. Funnily enough, my friend already voted for that same candidate; the bribe was money for jam.

Here’s another droll story—my friend’s sister was brought over from the province where she lives now (hinakot) to her polling precinct in our city, and given money by a certain candidate. On election day, she voted for the opponent.

Isn’t it usual that paipit is given before election day rather than after, and that proof of the vote is required before money exchanges hands? It seems that in this confusing, chaotic era, even the usual rules for fraud are bent.

Electoral fraud, says Wikipedia, is the “illegal interference with the process of an election, either by increasing the vote share of the favored candidate, depressing the vote share of the rival candidates, or both.”

In the Philippines, this is most often conducted in three ways—vote-buying, election rigging, and threatening and physical harassment of candidates and supporters.

As the President noted, the poor are the usual target for vote-buying. The mechanics are explained by Tristan A. Canare and Ronald U. Mendoza of Ateneo de Manila University and Mario Antonio Lopez of the Asian Institute of Management in their paper, ‘An empirical analysis of vote buying among the poor: Evidence from elections in the Philippines’ (South East Asia Research, March 2018).

From the abstract: “Data analysis shows that vote buying among the poor is indeed very common, but the incidence varies depending on the vote buying type. The most prevalent form uses more benign goods such as food and clothing, but offers of money [are] still reported by more than a quarter of respondents.

“Different vote buying types also have different correlates, including some socio-economic factors, suggesting that it is a finely targeted activity. In addition, money vote buying is predominant in tight elections, but buying votes using non-monetary offers is more common when there is a clear winner even before the election. Most of those who were offered accepted the goods or money, but only about two-thirds voted for the candidate.

“In addition, evidence suggests that the good or money is not the deciding factor in voting for the candidate. This supports the premise that vote buying is just part of a bigger effort by politicians to build clientelism and patronage among his/her constituencies. Dependency and loyalty is merely punctuated by election-related transfers, rather than an effort to completely change votes.”

Vote buying, then, is more than a simple exchange of money for a vote. Based on this study, I’d say it is part of a system that uses social capital to leverage loyalty to a personality. Most voters choose candidates from whom they perceive they can obtain personal advantage (kung kanino sila makikinabang) rather than making merit-based selections.

But vote buying is only one aspect of electoral fraud. Some opposition candidates and supporters are questioning the veracity of the results of the voting after Comelec botched the handling and transparency of the process.

Some precincts reported defective SD cards (Comelec bought them from the lowest bidder), and voters complained of machines that wouldn’t work. More alarming was the gap when the Comelec transparency server stopped sending results to the media and poll watchdogs. The agency claimed technical issues were to blame.

As a consequence, and because many Filipinos find the new senatorial lineup unsatisfying, there are claims that the election was rigged. Again, this is nothing new; recall the 1986 snap elections and the ‘Hello Garci’ scandal in the 2004 presidential election that favored Gloria Arroyo.

Another method of electoral manipulation is threat and violence. In the months and weeks up to election day, candidates and incumbents alike were assassinated, harassed, and intimidated.

As Panelo says, education is needed to reform systemic ills. But even education will be inadequate if people cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. A reorientation of the Filipino’s moral compass is in order. 

We need to change how we think about elections and their conduct. /FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Jenny Ortuoste , Philippine elections , Vote buying , 2019 midterm elections
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