CEBU CITY -- A poll official warned groups and individuals against accepting money or anything of value from candidates or their representatives, as this constitutes an election offense.

Not only the candidate giving a cash donation or gift in kind will be liable for violating election laws, but also any person or association who solicits or receives it.

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The Commission on Elections (Comelec) officer, who requested anonymity, cited section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, which enumerates the prohibited acts, including vote-buying and vote-selling.

Section 261 states, in part, that it is illegal for “any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private, or makes or offers to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity, or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his vote in the election.”

It further states that “any person, association, corporation, group or community who solicits or receives, directly or indirectly, any expenditure or promise of any office or employment, public or private, for any of the foregoing considerations” will violate the law.

“If the purpose of the donation or contribution is just for tithes, then there is no problem. But if the purpose is to request support, then that is illegal campaigning and it’s an election offense, both on the part of the donor and the recipient,” the poll official said.

Another provision of the Omnibus Election Code, section 104, holds the candidate liable for any donation made to religious organizations and civic groups.

At the regional and Cebu City poll offices, election officers have different interpretations of the Omnibus Election Code provisions.

Lawyer Marchel Sarno, Cebu City election officer for the north district, said that under section 104, only the candidate or his representative who gives any cash donation to a religious or civic group is liable for an election offense.

If convicted, the donor could face one to six years’ imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from public service.

While section 261 prohibits any person or group from soliciting or accepting any expenditure or promise of employment or position, and holds the recipient liable for an election offense, Comelec-Central Visayas Assistant Regional Director Veronico Petalcorin said it is in the context of vote-buying and not accepting donations.

He said the intention of the donor should be established. If the intention is to influence or buy the vote of the recipient, then the latter is liable.

Earlier this week, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal admitted receiving money, although he doesn’t keep it for himself but donates it to the Archdiocese’s charity arm to be used for its projects.

Vidal said the money he receives from politicians is not meant to buy his vote, but out of good will. He said that some aspirants, particularly the presidential candidates, continue to ask for his support whenever they visit Cebu.

The prelate said that some officials would give him the cash donations themselves. Others would send the donation through a staff member.

“If the purpose is to enhance one’s candidacy, then that becomes an election offense. The recipient becomes liable if there is a commitment for support. If there is no commitment and the money is just for stipend or allowance, then it’s considered regular,” said the city election officer for the south district, Lawyer Edwin Cadungog.

To clarify gray areas in the law, Regional Election Director and lawyer Ray Rene Buac encouraged interested parties to just file a case in court against those who give or accept money from candidates.

“There are many things to consider, such as the date when the money was given, the intent of the donation. Ipa-file lang ug kaso ug kinsa man gani ang interesado aron maklaro gyud kay lisod ug puro ra ta hypothetical discussions,” he said.

City Administrator Francisco Fernandez, who has helped in previous campaigns of Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan, welcomed reports that some candidates gave the prelate cash donations, as this would open discussions on violations made by candidates.

He urged voters and groups to report any cash donations made by national and local bets during the campaign period.

“I’m very happy that this is happening to the Cardinal because nobody can question his integrity, so we can discuss this publicly. We’re sure he did it without malice. We have to expose these candidates so we can make the campaign less expensive, because an expensive election increases the temptation of corruption,” he said.

A church official said that members of the clergy are urged to be careful in receiving directly or indirectly any donations from candidates.

However, Msgr. Esteban Binghay clarified that although Cardinal Vidal has admitted to receiving donations from politicians running in the May elections, he didn’t receive them personally.

“He didn’t receive the cash donations while face-to-face with the candidates,” said Binghay.

When Binghay and other officials of the Cebu Archdiocese met with Cardinal Vidal on Friday, the issue of the Cebu Archbishop’s statement formed part of their discussion.

The episcopal vicar was one of the church officials who personally asked Cardinal Vidal about the matter, and the archbishop explained to him.

Binghay said the cash donated by politicians was not meant to buy the archbishop’s favor, but given in good faith. The cash donations are turned over to good causes, such as the Cebu Caritas Inc., the charity arm of the Archdiocese.

Binghay said he is urging fellow priests to be wary about cash donations to their parishes, especially if made indirectly.

“There should be a use of prudence and common sense by the clergy. If it attracts scandal, then we priests should refrain from it,” added Binghay. (LCR/With JKV/Sun.Star Cebu)