We are elated to learn that the Philippine Supreme Court has affirmed a Comelec’s (Commission on Elections) decision disqualifying Emilio Ramon “ER” Ejercito as the winner in the 2013 Laguna gubernatorial election for overspending.
First in the history of Philippine elections, the ruling is a big step toward more democratic elections as it is expected to level the political playing field. It is no secret that most of the time, moneyed candidates dominate elections in our homeland, and poor aspirants for public office have almost zero chance to win.
In the case of Ejercito, it was established that he had spent P23 million, which is more than four times the maximum amount set by law. A candidate is allowed to spend only P3 per voter. In Laguna where there are 1.5 million registered voters, the maximum amount a candidate for governor is allowed to spend is P4.5 million.
Ejercito had elevated the Comelec’s decision to the Supreme Court. And on Nov. 25, 2014, the High Court, voting 12-0, rejected Ejercito’s petition seeking to reverse the Comelec ruling.
Noting that the decision is final and executory, Ejercito said he can no longer do anything but to accept his fate. He said, however, that he will run again for governor of Laguna in the 2016 elections.
The decision stemmed from a complaint filed by his opponent in the gubernatorial race in the 2013 elections.
Although we laud the Comelec headed by Chairman Sixto Brillantes for the disqualification of Ejercito, we urge the election body to also go after other politicians who have been winning in the polls because they have been spending tons and tons of money. It is a public knowledge that unscrupulous politicians spend piles of money for buying votes to ensure their election or reelection.
They know that vote buying is against the law, but they just ignore the law because they know they can get away with it. No candidate has so far been convicted of vote buying.
But it takes to tango: There is no buyer if there is no seller. There are many voters who are willing or even offering to sell their votes. The vote sellers are poor people who can hardly make ends meet. They are just too happy to sell their votes because the money would enable them to put food on the table.
Vote buying is rampant in the rural areas where most of the residents are subsistence fishermen and farmers. Vote buying, though, is a problem not endemic to the Philippines. It is also a pernicious problem in Indonesia, and farmers and fishermen in that Asian country are also most vulnerable to vote buying.
The problem persists because it is difficult to prosecute unscrupulous candidates for vote buying. One reason for this is that the sellers (voters) don’t like or are afraid to testify against the buyers.
It is comparatively easier to prosecute candidates for overspending because evidence is readily available. There are receipts for, say, printing of streamers or posters.
In the case of Ejercito, the evidence against him consisted mainly of receipts for radio and TV advertisements promoting his candidacy.
Aside from prosecuting overspending politicians, the Comelec should also speed up the disposition of complaints. It is noted that often the wheel of justice at the Comelec grinds so slowly that its decision is handed down after the term of office of the “elected” official subject of the complaint already ended. The decision is moot and academic, so they say. It is a clear case of “justice delayed, justice denied.”
Another problem regarding election complaints is the alleged bias of the Comelec. It has been accused of acting only on cases filed against candidates belonging to a political party different from that of the administration. In such cases, the Comelec is unusually fast in disposing them. But in the cases of candidates belonging to the administration party, the Comelec is accused of foot-dragging.
Election-campaign overspending, vote buying, slow disposition of cases and bias are problems that make a mockery of democracy. If we dig deep, we would find out that underneath these problems is corruption.