JUSTICE Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Tuesday said his department will give “the highest priority” to the inter-agency task force against vote-buying being planned by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).  

“I intend to create a DoJ (Department of Justice) composite team from the National Prosecution Service, National Bureau of Investigation, Public Attorney’s Office, and the DoJ action center (main and field offices) for the COMELECs inter-agency task force against vote-buying,” he said in a Viber message on Tuesday.  

Comelec Commissioner George M. Garcia said last week that the poll body intends to form a team with representatives from law enforcement agencies and the Department of the Interior and Local Government to address vote buying incidents relating to the May 9 national and local elections.   

Mr. Garcia said the task force is expected to act on incidents based on either formal complaints or motu proprio, meaning upon its own initiative.   

Comelec Spokesperson James B. Jimenez said in February that under the election body’s rules, vote-buying and selling can only be investigated upon the filing of complaints. These incidents may also be reported to Comelec’s social media and email accounts.  

Mr. Garcia earlier urged the public to file formal complaints on these alleged vote-buying incidents so the agency could study the evidence presented and require defendants to respond to the allegations. 

“We want a formal investigation because definitely, we cannot file cases based on news reports,” he said last week. “Cases with concrete evidence are the ones that can stand in court.”  

Videos and photos of possible vote-buying violations have gone viral on social media.  

Under the Omnibus Election Code, vote buying is defined as “Any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, in order to induce anyone or the public, in general, to vote for or against any candidate.”   

“Considering the importance of the forthcoming elections to the survival and recovery of the nation, I will direct the DoJ contingent to give the highest priority to this campaign in the next 40 days,” Mr. Guevarra said. John Victor D. Ordoñez