UNLIKE in 2013, when police waged selective, unpublicized operations to go after vote buyers on the eve of election day, this time they:
* Formally announced it as a nationwide mission, using 105 teams, with one per district in Metro Manila and one per province.
* Started early, from Jan. 13, with their arrests of 174 from that day until May 10 increased seven times during the weekend preceding election day.
The 2013 “project” in Cebu raised a major controversy because it was apparently directed only at One Cebu and its candidates, waged in the election campaign highlighted by the impasse at Capitol when then governor Gwen Garcia initially resisted an order of suspension.
None was publicized about other areas then but it didn’t mean the strategy was not used in other parts of the country where politicians were able to get police support.
Two elections forward: President Duterte publicly promised clean elections, warning against vote buying.
And the police conducted the “op” to back up the promise.
Did it go well? Not all the facts are in but initial reports are not encouraging.
In Cebu City, the two reported cases involved the May 13 arrest of a worker of the BMO (barangay mayor’s office) in Lorega-San Miguel and the May 12 arrest of four persons, two of whom were youth council officers, in Cogon Central Ramos.
BOPK supporters were the ones caught; none from Barug, the rival party, which inevitably raised the charge of selective targeting. Expectedly too, the suspects put up defenses: the BMO worker said she was paying a debt for rice while the youths said the money (P4,800 cash and P200 in an envelope) was for basketball uniforms and the Guardo flyers were planted by police.
The first two reported cases expose the weaknesses in any campaign against vote buying: proving the crime and showing neutrality. Evidence might be tough to support as the law requires the cash or in-kind material to be used to induce the voter to vote for the candidate. The evidence link between bribe and motive is tenuous, often unclear.
The 2013 operation largely succeeded because it was not intended to bring suspects to court. The primary intent was to stop the cash from source to recipients. With no publicity, the targeted politicians were caught unaware, with the seizure of large amounts of money intercepted and un-reported.
A start for the police
That may not be so anymore. Politicians did the thing early and revised means to distribute the cash. As a police official lamented on radio Monday (May 13), “Humana (It’s finished.) Those roaming on election eve didn’t carry cash. They just went about to see if their sales were not superseded by their rivals.”
In sum, it was not yet a seriously-planned effort. And it was probably used as weapon to wreck election strategy of the police-supported candidates’ enemies. But the police, particularly the Cebu City unit, without its running feud against the mayor, can do it more effectively next time.