Manila: "I have netted 500 pesos today," says Amie, a former overseas Filipino worker, who had gone back to her home province in Bicol for good after working more than seven years in Dubai.
Today, Sunday, is the eve of mid-term elections in the Philippines — and vote buying has become an accepted norm, especially in the the hotly-contested local government seats.
It's the moment when cash-loaded leaders of local politicians buy voters, who often go for the highest bidder.
Vote buying, the curse of Philippine democracy, has become almost ubiquitous and many voters, especially in the provinces make a killing by taking money from rival parties.
On Monday, May 13, up to 61 million Filipinos are expected to troop to the polling precincts across the country as numerous reports of election fraud surfaced even before the polling could take place.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) Spokesman James Jimenez said everything is set for the May 13 automated midterm elections where some 61 million registered voters in the country will choose their next set of 12 senators, House of Representatives members, governors and vice governors, members of provincial board, city and municipal mayors and vice mayors as well as councillors.
61mregistered Filipino voters
“It’s all systems go for the vote,” Jimenez said adding that 1,822,173 Filipinos have also registered as voters in the absentee political exercise that would also be held abroad.
Filipinos voting abroad in the absentee poll had been given a wider lead time to cast their vote.
1.82million is the number of registered absentee voters abroad
Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte expressed disappointment over reports of violence and harassment in Lanao del Sur as well as alleged vote buying in other parts of the country.
Duterte, in a speech in Pasig City in Metro Manila on Saturday, said he might order the deployment of more troops in Lanao del Sur if the situation does not improve.
“You must remember that until now martial law exists in Mindanao. Do not force my hand to do something which you might not like and hate me for all time,” he warned.
Earlier, a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer said Ulama and Imams Association of the Philippines President Fatani Andulmalik calling on the Comelec to place Lanao del Sur and Marawi City under its control amid reports of rampant electoral anomalies perpetrated by certain local candidates.
More vote buying this time
Rowena Guanzon one of the Commissioners of the Comelec said there are apparently more incidents of vote buying during this election period than before.
“I just don’t know why there have been so many reports of vote buying now compared to previous polls; a lot of the perpetrators are getting caught now,” Guanzon said.
The Philippine National Police had earlier formed a task force “Kontra Bigay” (Counter Bribery) to go after individuals and groups involved in election fraud.
In Metro Manila, National Capital Region Police chief Maj Gen Guillermo Eleazar said nearly 100 individuals have already been arrested for vote selling and vote buying in the cities of Malabon, Manila, Muntinlupa as well as Quezon City and Makati City ahead of the actual vote on May 13.
Under the country’s election laws, vote buying and vote selling are offences punishable by imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years.
Elections in the Philippines are often marred by fraud and violence.