Poverty leads to vote buying

By Aileen Sabater, BS Tourism student, University of the Philippines Diliman

The less fortunate is the most susceptible to vote buying.

Vote buying hinders the democratic progress in the Philippines, but can we actually blame the poor for selling their votes?

The poor, who makes up majority of the Filipino voters, has always been blamed for their illogical and uneducated voting choices. Given that they lack education, these people probably base their decision on what they hear and see in the media. The latter being the most effective means of communication to the larger society or the “masa” is actually problematic – filtered and sometimes fake news surface which lead to misinformation and poor decision-making.

However, in a study conducted by the Institute of Philippine Culture, the poor ranked education, experience, platform, and track record as among the most important criteria for choosing candidates while godliness, helpfulness, sincerity, and responsibility are the qualities they value most for a future leader to possess.

If the poor knows what kind of politician should be voted for, how come they are willing to sell their votes? How does the poor perceive “vote buying?” Someone does not need to complete higher education to know that vote buying is wrong. To sell or not to sell one’s vote is a battle between the individual’s conscience and needs.

Some Filipinos accept these bribes but not actually vote for the candidate buying votes. But in many far-flung areas of the country, the ones accepting bribes are “forced” to vote for the candidate who bought their votes – otherwise, something very unpleasant could happen to them.

According to Section 261 (a) of the Omnibus Election Code of the Philippines (Batas Pambansa Blg. 881), vote buying and vote selling are among the prohibited acts which are punishable by the said law. There is no strict implementation, obviously, hence the poor compliance. Indeed, it is difficult to gather enough evidence to prove that a certain candidate has violated the law since there is always a middleman interacting directly to the voters. Are there any reforms the government should be pursuing to break this norm of vote buying?

Buying votes is a criminal act and it should not be treated lightly. To put an end or somehow lessen the number of people getting involved in vote buying and vote selling, there should be consistent and effective enforcement of the law.

The government, with the help of civil society, must also engage the Filipinos in realizing a clean election process. Equally important, the government must also pursue anti-poor policies – uphold every citizen’s right to education, improve people’s standard of living, and aim to develop all the areas in the country.

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