By Eden Eve Lacea

PHOTO: Dondi Tawatao/Reuters/Maphill

Large amounts of money tied to vote buying were said to be withdrawn in Ilocos Sur prior to the 2022 polls, cited Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner George Garcia in a report by the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). 

Garcia disclosed the information last Tuesday during an assessment of the recently concluded May 9 elections.

“There was one report from the Anti-Money Laundering Council on the large amount of money withdrawn. It’s in Ilocos Sur,” the Comelec commissioner reported.

“That’s not me. That’s my neighbor,” Imee Marcos, ex-governor of Ilocos Norte and current Chairperson of the Senate Committee on Electoral reforms, jokingly rebutted. Ilocos Sur is the neighboring province of Ilocos Norte where Marcos served as governor from 2010 to 2019.

Aside from the reported haul of cash in Ilocos Sur, Garcia also said that 940 Facebook messages, 171 emails, and 105 reports on vote buying were recorded by Comelec’s task force “Kontra Bigay.”

Of the said reports, the Comelec has already documented 12 verified complaints.  

Stiffer measures eyed against vote buying

Commissioner George Garcia proposed a provision under the anti-money laundering law to prohibit large amounts of cash to be withdrawn 10 days before elections in hopes to prevent possible vote buying. 

“We can likewise include perhaps or study in the anti money laundering law…preventing massive withdrawal or even prevention or suspension of any withdrawal from banks during the period or at least 10 days before the election,” he said.

Comelec Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan also added on the implementation of “stiffer penalties” upon those guilty of vote buying, which was supported by Senator Imee Marcos. 

“We would like to propose stiffer penalties for vote buying because this has been well-entrenched in every locality in the country and we should also work hard for the prosecution and possible conviction of these vote buyers,” Pangarungan said. 

“All should be covered, from those who paid, those who received payments and officials who are merely sleeping on the job. All of them should be covered by these penalties,” Marcos added.

Vote buying a perennial problem in Ilocos Sur 

Days before the May 9 elections, a shootout took place in Magsingal, Ilocos Sur, which left four people dead, another four injured, and two arrested.

The said shooting incident was triggered due to allegations of vote buying accused by the supporters of mayoral candidate Lorry Salvador Jr. towards the camp of rival candidate and former mayor Alrico Falvis, who also had his wife, Mrs. Victoria Ina Favis, as the incumbent mayor of Magsingal. 

In 2011, former chairwoman of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) Henrietta De Villa revealed that vote buying was imminent during a special election for a congressional seat vacated by Ronald Singson who was arrested for drug trafficking.

The emptied position was replaced by his brother, Ryan Luis Singson, who won against lawyer Bertrand Baterina.

De Villa refused to disclose information regarding the camp that bought votes, adding that the PPCRV will remain non-partisan.

However, in 2013, allegations of vote-buying were charged against the Singson brothers and other local officials during a fiesta event in the province. 

According to a complaint filed by then gubernatorial candidate Roque Versoza Jr., the Singson brothers and other officials were seen to be giving out at least 20,000 pesos in what seemed to be more of a “partisan political activity” than a fiesta celebration. 

Edited by Quian Vencel A. Galut