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Vote-Buying as an Election Offense

By Ellaine Anne Bernardino on April 21, 2022

As the May 2022 national elections fast approaches, Filipino voters should take this time to intelligently consider which candidate has the most promising platform, the ideal character and relevant track record to better the country.

Political candidates have only less than a month to campaign. Since a clean and honest election is indispensable for democracy to flourish, political candidates are expected to use lawful and honest means to convince and woo voters to vote for them on election day.

Election offenses, such as vote-buying, are evils that obstruct the election process. They destroy the sanctity of the votes and abet the entry of dishonest candidates into the corridors of power where they may do more harm (Commission on Elections [Comelec] vs Hon. Lucenito N. Tagle, GR Nos. 148948 and 148951-60, Feb. 17, 2003).

Section 261 of Batas Pambansa (BP) Bilang 881, or the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines (OEC), provides that “vote-buying” is an election offense wherein a promise or a gift is given in exchange for voting for or against any candidate. Any person found guilty of vote-buying or selling shall be punished by imprisonment for one to six years, disqualification to hold public office and forfeiture of one’s right to vote. In addition, any political party found guilty would also have to pay a fine of not less than P10,000.

In the case of Nolasco vs Comelec (GR Nos. 122250 and 122258, Jul. 21, 1997), the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Comelec to disqualify a candidate on the ground of vote-buying by giving away pay envelopes with money and the inscription stating “VOTE !!! TINOY.” The Supreme Court ruled that while the giving must be consummated, the mere act of offering or promising something in consideration for someone’s vote constitutes the offense of vote-buying.

It is noteworthy, however, that in the case of Lozano vs Yorac (GR 94521, Oct. 28, 1991), the Supreme Court held that the traditional gift-giving of Makati during the Christmas season is not considered vote-buying, since it does not sufficiently establish that respondent was trying to influence and induce his constituents to vote for him.

Under the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines, the Comelec has the power to prosecute cases of violations of election laws, including acts or omissions constituting election frauds, offenses and malpractices. The initiation of a complaint for election offenses may be done through a complaint by a party or motu proprio by the Comelec.

Furthermore, it is the regional trial courts (RTC) that have exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of the OEC, except those relating to the offense of failure to register or failure to vote which shall be under the jurisdiction of the metropolitan or municipal trial courts.

In the case of Comelec vs Aguirre (GR 171208, Sept. 7, 2007), the Supreme Court ruled that, while BP 129 vests in the municipal trial courts, metropolitan trial courts and municipal circuit trial courts the jurisdiction over criminal cases carrying a penalty of imprisonment of less than one year but not exceeding six years, following Section 268 of the OEC, any criminal action or proceeding for an election offense which bears the same penalty, with certain exceptions, falls within the exclusive original jurisdiction of the RTC.

Therefore, in the case of Comelec vs Noynay (GR 132365, July 9, 1998), citing the case of Alberto Naldeza vs Judge Juan Lavilles Jr. (AM MTJ-94-1009, March 5, 1996), the Supreme Court held that the Comelec has the exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigations of all election offenses punishable under the OEC and the RTC shall have the exclusive original jurisdiction to try and decide any criminal action or proceedings for violation of the same.

Moreover, it is notable that Section 28 of Republic Act 6646 provides that a complaint for vote-buying or vote-selling supported by affidavits of the complaining witnesses attesting to the act of vote-buying or selling shall be sufficient basis for an investigation to be immediately conducted by the Comelec. Hence, in the case of Bernardo vs Abalos (GR 137266, Dec. 5, 2001), wherein the petitioners’ complaint expressly stated that no supporting affidavits were submitted by the complaining witness to sustain their charge of vote-buying, the Supreme Court ruled that the absence of such supporting affidavits shows the frailty of petitioners’ complaint, hence, the complaint should be dismissed.

Vote-buying is a serious election offense. Everyone should be reminded that there is no price for the future of the country and that we should all vote wisely.

Ellaine Anne L. Bernardino is a junior associate of Mata-Perez, Tamayo and Francisco (MTF Counsel).

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