By Rjay Zuriaga Castor

PHOTO: Manila Bulletin

As the Philippine elections frequently marred by vote buying, Vice President and now presidential aspirant Leni Robredo clarified on Wednesday, October 27, that she is not condoning the practice of vote-buying, but merely stating the "realities on the ground."

“Aware tayo sa nasa batas. Hindi tayo masaya na hindi ito nae-enforce pero dapat bukas ‘yung mata natin sa realities on the ground,” said Robredo during a briefing held in her home region of Bicol.

The presidential aspirant pointed out the main problem is regulations against it are not being properly implemented: “Hindi natin kino-condone iyong vote-buying. In fact, isa tayo sa matagal nang nakikipaglaban sa vote-buying. Pero hinihingi natin sa ating mga awtoridad ang enforcement nito maging maayos. 

Robredo's clarifications came after she drew flak over her statement that it is okay for voters to accept the money from politicians, but urged the public to vote on what their conscience tells them. 
In an online forum with members of Kasambahay on Tuesday, October 26, she remarked there is nothing wrong when the public accepts the bribe money offered by election aspirants to buy their votes, as it is also the people’s money. 

“Magiging honest ako sa inyo, ha? Kasi nung nag-run ako for congressman, grabe 'yung bilihan ng boto sa amin. Alam mo, mali siya, mali 'yung pagbibili ng boto. Pero 'yung sinasabi ko sa tao, tanggapin nyo… 'Yung pinangbibili ng boto, pera din 'yan ng taongbayan,” Robredo said. 

The Vice President underscored that if candidates will not be elected in public office despite buying votes, this, in one way or the other will help end the culture of vote-buying and vote-selling in the country. 

"Kasi na-imagine mo... Kapag mayroong namili ng boto pero paglabas ng resulta ng eleksyon, talo siya, next time, mag-iisip na iyon. Next time mag-iisip na iyon na, 'Oh, hindi effective iyong pagbibili ko ng boto," Robredo posited. 

The presidential aspirant also noted that it is now easier to buy votes because vote buyers might resort to online money transfer systems to manipulate the elections, but she assured that no one will know who they voted for.

Earlier in August, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) had also asked the help of financial experts amid concerns that politicians might use GCash, a mobile wallet in the country, to buy votes in 2022 national and elections.

On the contrary, the poll body insisted its stern stance that taking the money but still voting who you want to is also not acceptable.

"Vote buying is an election offense regardless of financial situation or noble intentions. Di dapat ginagawa, at di dapat sina-suggest yan sa mga botante," said Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez in a tweet shortly after Robredo's remarks. 

Meanwhile, President Rodrigo Duterte in 2019 reiterated that vote buying is an "integral" part of the country's electoral exercise that "would persist for as long as the Philippines remains to be a poor country." 

He said it would be hard to pin down vote buying as it comes in "many forms" and is not only manifested in politicians giving out money to the public to ensure votes for them in a locality. 

Under the Section 261 (a) of Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines or Batas Pambansa Blg. 881, vote-buying and vote-selling are among the election offenses punishable by the said law.