Comelec to probe alleged ‘massive’ vote-buying in Siquijor

By Mary Judaline Partlow

May 14, 2018, 7:48 pm

DUMAGUETE CITY, Negros Oriental -- The Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the nearby island-province of Siquijor will investigate the reported alleged massive vote-buying in relation to Monday’s barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections upon receipt of formal complaints.

Lawyer Jerome Brillantes, the provincial election supervisor of Siquijor, in an interview Monday afternoon, disclosed that the provincial Comelec office in the island province comprising six towns has received reports of alleged vote-buying prior to elections day.

Reports reaching his office show candidates are reportedly distributing cash ranging from PHP20 to PHP100 or even more per voter, along with campaign materials.

However, Brillantes lamented that while talks are widespread about the supposed vote-buying activities, nobody is willing to talk, and his office has not yet received an official complaint regarding this issue.

There is also no evidence to back up the reports, such as photographs or video clips, he said.

“It is frustrating that we receive these reports by word of mouth only, and people are also accusing us in the Comelec of not doing anything about it,” he pointed out.

Brillantes said the Comelec in the province has restrictions and limitations in the conduct of an investigation of alleged unlawful acts related to the elections, as these have to go through a process such as a report being forwarded to their legal department.

“In fact gani, nagubot mi dire gahapon kay ang among PD ug ubang mga police ma relieve unta (In fact, we were thrown off-guard yesterday because our PD (provincial police director) and other policemen would have been relieved) for not doing something about the complaints of alleged vote-buying,” he said.

Brillantes stressed that vote-buying is not something happening exclusively in Siquijor, as the problem is also commonplace in other parts of the country.

The provincial Comelec supervisor said each time his office receives a report of “vote-buying” activities in a particular area, he or his staff would respond right away, escorted by the police, but by the time they get to the place, it would be too late as the people have already dispersed.

“And the sad part is nobody is willing to cooperate. They just keep complaining but they are not even willing to file a formal complaint so that we have grounds to charge the ones responsible,” he lamented.

He also disclosed reports of politicians allegedly “dipping their fingers” into what is supposed to be a non-partisan and non-political electoral exercise. 

Brillantes said he hopes that opposing groups involved in a verbal tussle and confrontation in the municipality of Larena this past weekend will pursue their complaint and file charges against each other.

“Mas maau unta nga mu file sila ug complaint aron nay masampolan dire sa Siquijor (It would be better if they would file a complaint so that it would set an example here in Siquijor),” he stressed.

The peaceful municipality of the Larena, considered as the economic hub of Siquijor, was disrupted Saturday night following a confrontation between the group of Mayor Dean Villa and Siquijor Rep. Ramon “Rav” Rocamora and another group which turned out later to be a non-government organization “advocating the reforms and other plans and programs of President Rodrigo Duterte.”

The group calls themselves the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating (MRRDNECC) Committee “espousing the advocacies of the President, especially (against) vote-buying,” said Clare Lucero, its vice chairman.

Brillantes said his office has received a report from the Philippine National Police (PNP) regarding the Saturday confrontation, which fortunately the police managed to pacify before it could get out of hand.

A police blotter report from the Larena police station had two versions of the confrontation that took place in the town hall that night.

The first version showed that a group led by Roy Jimenez and Clare Lucero went to the police station to have it recorded that while they were parking their vehicles near the Tan Bongco Learning Center in the vicinity of the municipal hall, “stalking the activities of the barangay candidates who were coming in and out” of the mayor’s office.

While they were recording such activities on video, one of the supporters of the mayor spotted them and reported right away to the local chief executive.

They further alleged in the police blotter report that an “angry” Villa came over to them, banged the window of their vehicle and asked them to disembark, which they did not heed out of fear of being “assaulted by his supporters”.

It was then that Rocamora came and also requested them to step out of the vehicle, but still they refused until the police arrived, headed by police chief Senior Insp. Edgar Labe, who asked them to roll down their windows.

After the commotion was calmed down, the group of Lucero agreed to leave the place upon the request of the police chief.

However, they claimed that Villa threw a cup of water at Jimenez, which was caught on video camera.

Meanwhile, Villa and Rocamora’s version of the story in the police blotter revealed that Arnold Palahang, the barangay captain of Catamboan in Larena town, while on his way home on board a motorcycle, noticed that a white-colored van was tailing him until reaching Barangay Bontod, Larena.

Palahang decided to turn back and headed to the municipal hall for fear that those in the van might cause him harm, the police blotter revealed, but the van still followed him all the way to the municipal hall.

When the mayor was informed of the incident, he went out of his office and saw at least six vehicles, whose plate numbers and descriptions were written down in the police blotter, parked in the vicinity of the municipal hall.

The headlights of these vehicles were on high beam, which made the mayor and the congressman “suspicious” and “unusual”, thus causing a commotion to the employees.

Following the incident, the police chief has recommended that additional police personnel will be deployed to Larena town during elections day and the next few days “to preempt” the growing tension and for the safety and protection of the town residents.

Meanwhile, Lucero announced that their group is strongly considering filing appropriate charges with the Comelec in the coming days against those found to be involved in vote-buying activities.

“There are hundreds of them everywhere in Siquijor, and we have pictures and video clips to show that,” Lucero said.

“Although all are circumstantial, it would really paint a picture of the massive vote-buying in the province of Siquijor,” he added.

Asked whether those involved are politicians, political parties, or groups that are involved in the supposed mass vote-buying, Lucero said “because there are so many groups already in the province of Siquijor, we could suggest that almost all groups are doing it, but a particular group is very significant because they have huge amounts of money.”

Lucero further said majority of the pieces of evidence they collected “are coming from a single group”.

He declined to name them, but said it is very obvious who is behind all these.

“There are many people who are also willing to execute affidavits to support what is being recorded in the police blotter,” he disclosed.

As of the moment, the MRRDNECC is waiting for the go signal from their legal team before they will file the proper complaints with the Comelec, he added.

Brillantes further said he hopes this will turn out well so that the Comelec can take the necessary actions against those involved. (PNA)