Comelec backs bill declaring vote-buying a crime
WILLIAM B. DEPASUPIL
The Manila Times
THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) is backing moves in Congress seeking to declare votebuying as a heinous crime and imposing a stiffer penalty. Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia on Wednesday said it is time to impose stiffer sanctions or penalties on people who buy and sell votes during election periods. House Bill 1709 entitled “An Act Defining and Declaring VoteBuying as a Heinous Crime,” authored and filed by Malasakit at Bayanihan Rep. Anthony Golez Jr., seeks to declare such election offense as a heinous crime and increase the penalty from 20 to 40 years in prison. Garcia also recommended the amendments of certain provisions of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC), particularly Section 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code (Batas Pambansa 881, as amended) which, he pointed out, is already outdated and no longer applicable to current times. “This specific recommendation is made insofar as the updating of the definition of vote-buying and vote-selling, to be more attuned to current times and situations, particularly encompassing vote-buying/selling via online or over-the-air fund-transfers, internet cash transmittals and other analogous modalities,” he pointed out. Under Section 261 of the OEC, “any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private, or makes or offers to make an expenditure directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person association, corporation, entity or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his vote in the election, or to vote for or against any aspirant for the nomination or choice of a candidate in a convention or similar selection process of a political party” is guilty of an election offense. The Comelec has admitted though that under the existing law, vote-buying is really hard to solve, saying the main problem is in the gathering of evidence, including the identifying of potential witnesses who would be committed to provide affidavits and testify in court. Garcia explained that redefining the provision of the OEC would also pave the way for the conduct of better criminal investigations and case buildup, culminating in more effective and efficient prosecution. He pointed out that “modernized” modes of vote-buying and vote-selling at present were nefariously designed to exploit the inherent loopholes of the outdated provisions of law, which he said must be addressed without further delay.