Vice President Leni Robredo reignited conversations on vote-buying when she said, in response to a question, that it's okay to accept money from politicians as long as it doesn't influence whose name they shade on the ballot.
The vote is not for sale, but it's okay to accept money? Some 60 million voters will ponder that question as they decide who will best lead the Philippines out of the pandemic. The answer is difficult to understand for the privileged who don't live hand-to-mouth, analysts said.
"Tatanggapin mo pero ang iboboto mo kung sino iyong nasa konsensya mo. Huwag kang boboto dahil pakiramdam mo mayroon kang utang na loob," Robredo said. Vote-buying is wrong but money from politicians is from taxpayers' pockets, she said.
Robredo's rival for the presidency, former senator Bongbong Marcos, told Filipino voters in 2016: "Ang sinasabi ko, sige kunin ninyo ang pera, inyo naman talaga 'yan, tapos gawin ninyo 'yung gusto ninyo."
Vote buying is an election offense "regardless of financial situation or noble intentions", Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said. "'Di dapat ginagawa, at 'di dapat sina-suggest 'yan sa mga botante," he said on Twitter.
Vote-buying preys on the poor
The poor, who can't refuse money for food and other daily needs, are the prime targets of vote-buying, sociologists said. Before the pandemic sank the country into its deepest recession since World War II, 16.7% of the country's roughly 100 million population live below the poverty line and 2.2% of all unemployed Filipinos live on just $1.90 or P100 a day.
Roughly eight in 10 who admitted to getting vote-buying offers took the money, usually P500, but ranges from P50 to P5,000, according to a study on vote-buying during the 2016 elections. When they don't offer cash, politicians offer mugs and shirts and promise favors to voters.
"Kung ikaw ay nangangailangan, kakagat at kakagat ka kaagad sa offer na 'yun, regardless kung iboboto mo ba talaga siya o hindi," UP Los Banos professor Prince Aldama told reportr.
Politicians assign familiar persons in a community as their vote-buyers or middlemen, the study said. The vote-buyer usually targets neighbors who don't plan on selling their ballot, the study said.
"'Yung mga nagbebenta ng boto, it's not as if merong conscious decision na 'ako, ibebenta ko boto ko.' Hindi e, it's part of the norm. You see a lot of people doing it," sociologist Athena Charanne "Ash" Presto said.
"Walang time 'yung mga tao talaga kumilatis especially kung talagang nagbabanat ka ng buto 24/7. Paano ka magkakaroon ng time kumilatis ang makikilala mo, 'yung pangalan ng taong nakarating sayo kasi may kasamang pera," said Presto.
Vote-buying is a festering problem
Robredo's statement shocked netizens because of the decent and righteous politics that she's offering as an alternative to whomever President Rodrigo Duterte will support as successor.
"What do you want her to say? Sabihin n'ya sa kasambahay 'oh, maging disente kayo, refuse the money.' 'Yung mga ganyang klaseng pag-iisip is a very privileged mindset. Kaya nagulat mga tao kasi ine-expect nila si Leni disente, which is a very middle-class standard. And Leni was not addressing the middle class when she said that statement," Presto said.
Deciding whether to accept or refuse such offer also comes from a place of privilege, she said. While a barkada of five can buy milk teas for P500, it means noodles and rice for days for a starving family.
Those in the middle class can also be target of vote-buying through job offers that can help secure their family's future, said Presto.
Some sell their votes not because they need the money, but because they don't want to earn the wrath of a politician. "Ikaw ba naman bibigyan ka ng pera tapos sasabihin mo hindi, mamarkahan ka," she said.
Some are paid not to vote come election day to prevent a rival from defeating the incumbent, said Presto.
"From a position of privilege, it's true that it's so easy to decline any donations or instance of vote-buying but for poor people, sometimes they need a hand-to-mouth existence so they need sometimes the money," Danilo Arao, a UP journalism professor and co-convenor of poll watchdog group Kontra-Daya told ANC.
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Vote-buying can be stopped
Comelec said the most effective deterrent to vote-buying is an electorate that refuses to be bought. "Ang pinakaepektibong pwedeng maghinto ng vote buying ay ang publikong aayaw sa inaalok na suhol," Jimenez said.
Politicians who will be elected in 2022 should have the will to stop vote-buying, said Aldama the sociologist.
Instead of blaming the poor, Kontra-Daya's Arao said authorities should train their guns on vote-buyers.
Presto the sociologist said vote-sellers are victims who should never be blamed.
"Unless ma-shift mo 'yung burden doon sa umaabuso, hindi mo masosolusyunan ang vote buying. Kasi abusado sila e, inaabuso nila 'yung alam nilang hindi tatanggi," she said.