THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday expressed support to a proposed law that will make vote-buying a heinous crime from just an election offense, but its chairman said new legislation must keep up with technological developments such as digital payment systems.
In a statement, Comelec said its chairman, George Erwin M. Garcia, considers the bill on vote-buying an important development since there are emerging modern methods of vote-buying using e-wallets and online banking.
Malasakit and Bayanihan Party-list Rep. Anthony T. Golez, Jr. on Monday filed House Bill 1709 or an “Act Defining and Declaring Vote-Buying as a Heinous Crime.”
The bill seeks to increase the penalty of vote-buying to up to 40 years of imprisonment from the current six years, a fine of at least P5 million, and perpetual disqualification from public office. Vote sellers can also be jailed up to six years and pay a fine of at least P100,000.
Comelec said the proposed measure must be complemented by a review and revision of the Omnibus Election Code to adopt to the digital age.
“Given the thrust of the bill and the laudable intent of the legislature, Chairman Garcia took the opportunity to equally recommend a further revisit of the law of the Omnibus Election Code,” Comelec said.
Mr. Garcia said it is important for lawmakers to review election laws to address online modes of payment.
Comelec established a task force against vote-buying for the May elections, which was led by Election Commissioner Aimee P. Ferolino.
Mr. Garcia reported that the task force had received more than 1,000 complaints on vote-buying during this year’s election season.
Acting Comelec Spokesperson John Rex C. Laudiangco said in June that 17 vote-buying complaints were set to undergo preliminary investigation.
Meanwhile, Basilan Rep. Mujiv S. Hataman filed a bill that seeks to postpone the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections to 2024.
Barangay is the smallest political unit in the Philippine government structure, to which SK or youth officials are part of.
House Bill No. 3384 aims to amend Republic Act 9164, to move both elections from December 5 this year to the second Monday of May in 2024.
“With the passage of the bill, the government is expected to generate savings of approximately P8 billion — a significant amount for a cash-strapped government. This representation believes that the budget could be realigned for economic stimulus and COVID-19 response programs for the benefit of the entire nation,” Mr. Hataman said.
The barangay and SK elections had already been postponed twice, which means current officials have already been serving extended terms. Several groups want the December voting to push through.
Comelec has said that it is carrying on with preparations until a law is signed setting a new date. — John Victor D. Ordoñez and Matthew Carl L. Montecillo