Altogether, the haul by local standards was not unimpressive. Two bars of laundry soap, four packs of instant noodles, two packs of embutido or steamed meatloaf and some three hundred pesos in cash.
The cash and and other items were all received by the household help in our house in Lianga over the past couple of days from various candidates running for local positions in the May 10 general elections. The local term for the "gifts" is "pahalipay" which in Bisaya is derived from the word "lipay" meaning to be happy. In reality, they are electoral bribes or money and consumer goods used to brazenly buy votes in what is clearly becoming an increasingly overt and disturbing upsurge of this type of electoral misconduct at least in this part of the country.
In past elections, vote-buying was already rampant but even then it was always done covertly and clandestinely in perverse acknowledgement, perhaps by those who have always done it, of its clearly illegal and immoral nature. Thus the monies used to buy votes were usually delivered a day or so before polling day and often in the dead of night by trusted couriers who would stealthily knock on doors and windows like cat burglars to wake up voters and their families. If goods were used to solicit votes, they were often inconspicuously wrapped and handed over to their intended recipients as surreptitiously as possible.
Yet in the days leading up to the May 10 elections, many candidates running for municipal and provincial posts have become more brazen in their vote-buying activities to the point that many of them had openly gone house to house in vehicles conspicuously displaying their campaign banners and streamers and openly distributing money and consumer items marked with their names or clipped to sample ballots and campaign handbills.
Aside from laundry soap, noodles and processed foods, other candidates distributed canned goods, containers of purified water and rice packs, all clearly labelled with the names of the candidates voters are supposed to vote for in return for the goodies. People began gathering along the highways and major roads waiting for the next caravan bearing gifts to arrive like predatory fish drawn from one feeding frenzy to another.
With the voting over yesterday and the canvassing of votes in the final stages, it has become clear that those that had engaged in extensive vote-buying activities have either won or are winning their bids for public office. This, in the view of many political observers here, indicates that paying for votes here remains an effective and necessary winning strategy for local political candidates despite admonitions from both church based and secular election monitoring groups for voters to accept all money and goods offered for their votes and yet continue to still cast their ballots according to conscience.
Clearly, many of the electorate in the more rural and isolated areas in the countryside hold themselves duty bound to cast their votes for those politicians who have paid for them. If there can indeed be honor among thieves then perversely there is also a misguided sense of honor among those who, by ignorance or force of circumstance, have prostituted their democratic right to suffrage.
A vote bought, therefore, is a vote precisely delivered and delivered they were in the hundreds and thousands all over the province while officials of the Commission on Elections tasked with keeping the polls clean and honest feign ignorance of what is going on. "Where's the evidence?," they would ask. "Where is the complainant?"
One can only wonder and shake one's head in disbelief at the gall and simulated play at ignorance by these bureaucrats and their feeble attempts to hide and obfuscate their guilt at helping subvert election laws they have been sworn to protect while in the streets and highways all over the province the elections is being stolen from right under their very noses.