KIDAPAWAN CITY– As campaign trails in the May 13, 2019 midterm elections turned in full swing, talks about vote-buying have resurfaced in many parts of the country, especially in impoverished southern communities.
Well-meaning individuals and groups have taken turns in posting social media messages warning voters against the pervasion of vote-buying as a major problem in the country’s electoral system and a prime cause of corruption in all levels of public offices.
Many of the warnings in Facebook and other social media networks emanated from people in war-torn Marawi City and Lanao del Sur, both components of the newly created Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) and the defunct Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).
Lanao del Sur, which the national government classified as the country’s “poorest of the poor provinces,” is noted to have “very high” rates of electoral bribe involving not less than P4,000 for each voter of a mayoral bet alone.
The “highest” rate was recorded in one of 39 towns in Lanao del Sur when a lady politician went home from years of “narco trade” in Metro Manila and ran for mayor in 1990s, offering P15,000 for each of less than 10,000 constituent-electors voting for her.
The woman, who was tagged as the “shabu queen of the south,” easily defeated her sitting rival mayor and reigned for two terms. There were reports that she had recruited close-in police escorts appointed at a cost of P100,000 to P150,000 each in the police recruitment system.
She ran for third term but lost to another “narco-politician” her estranged husband put up in early 2000s. She and her new husband were arrested in a police raid in Northern Mindanao about three years ago. But her spoilage of election contests remained a burden in the province, albeit with a lower rate.
Ali “Bebot” Mindalano, a former administrator of the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA), posted a message in the Facebook on April 20, warning voters to “expect flooding…money flooding” in Lanao del Sur’s first district. He claimed that votes for a mayor would cost at least P4,000 each.
National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) spokesperson Dimapuno Alonto-Datu Ramos Jr., a physician from Lanao del Sur, made a separate Facebook post on Tuesday: “Nasaan na ang mga aktibista kumo? Aleem (Islamic clerics)? Reformist or tableegh (preachers)? Lantaran na ang vote buying…”
Datu Ramos even coupled his post with a photo of cash amounts accompanying a list of candidates purportedly to be voted for.
Lawyer Naguib Sinarimbo, the minister for local governments of the infant BARMM, issued a memorandum this week to remind incumbent barangays officials in the region about their legal mandate for neutrality or apolitical stance in all electoral activities.
Sunarimbo enumerated several steps on how apolitical stance can be sustained. But like other related advocacies in traditional and social media networks, Sinarimbo’s memorandum did not mention a specific act against vote-buying.
In Barangay Amas, Kidapawan City, the seat of the North Cotabato provincial government, siblings Bernardo Jr. and Efren Piñol have openly asked resident voters to “take (electoral) bribes (and) vote (for candidates) by hearts.”
“You deserve the money offered by unscrupulous politicians…Take the money but vote according to your hearts or conscience,” Bernardo Jr., incumbent city vice mayor running for mayor, and Efren, a former Magpet, North Cotabato mayor running for congressional seat in the second district, told Barangay Amas voters.
The sibling candidates, both younger brothers of Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, believed that taking bribe money and electing someone else is the “most pragmatic” option in the face of sad reality that no vote-buyers or vote-takers have been indicted, much less convicted.
In the 2018 elections for barangay and kabataan officials, many voters in Barangay Amas had reported taking bribes ranging up to 500 pesos per candidate for kagawad or chairperson. The money reportedly came from candidates in cahoots with provincial and city politicians no running for election in the May 13 midterm polls. (Ali G. Macabalang)