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Catholic bishop feels slighted over vote-buying in Cha-cha

By Rhaydz B. Barcia

LEGAZPI CITY --- Bishop Joey Baylon of the Diocese of Legazpi has criticized the government for executing its plan to amend the 1987 Constitution in a dishonest and sinful way.

The prelate was offended after confirming reports that incidents of vote-buying are taking place, solely to ensure that constituents would support the planned Charter change through the people’s initiative.

The payout reportedly happened when the Mayors League of the Philippines Albay chapter, headed by Mayor Adrian Salceda of Polangui, Albay, and Representative Jil Bongalon of AKO Bicol, along with Ako Bicol executive director Atty. Alfredo Garbin, met on January 5, 2024, at St. Ellis Hotel in Legazpi City.

In a pastoral letter read during the celebration of masses in different parishes in Albay last Sunday, Baylon said that recent efforts to amend the 1987 Constitution urging voters to sign through people’s initiative are highly questionable as it entails vote buying.

“We received a report about influencing voters to sign in the name of people’s initiative to amend the Constitution. This is doubtful because they are rushing it without a thorough and concise information drive to explain the objective and consequences of this on the future of our country.

It’s sad to know that there is selling or buying a signature using money and aid from the government,” the prelate said in the local dialect.

Baylon also criticized the move of using the government’s aid to lure voters to sign the people’s initiative per se. “It is not right to use people’s poverty or suffering to push the interest of the powerful. It is not right to use the people’s initiative mechanism if it is not really the will of the citizens but of a few,” he said.

“To our faithful: Be careful. Do not just sign but examine your conscience. To those in authority: Watch over and do not disregard violations of the law in conducting this so-called people’s initiative,” Baylon said.

“Let’s pray that we will not be overpowered by the temptation of money, favor, or power and that we do what is right and righteous for our fellowmen and in our country,” he said.

Due to this, Baylon called on the people to be vigilant and discern as he urged the public not to succumb to temptations of monetary gain or power but to act with integrity and in the best interests of our country.

Veteran lawmaker Edcel Lagman of the 1st District of Albay accused Ako Bicol, the organization behind the people’s initiative signature campaign, of paying P100 pesos per voter in Albay.

Lagman questioned Ako Bicol’s move for a people’s initiative to amend the 1987 constitution, stating that if the intention is noble and patriotic, then why buy the people’s will.

Lagman said that “also present during said meeting was incumbent Ako Bicol Congressman Raul Angelo “Jil” Bongalon at Ellis Hotel. The buying of signatures for the petition on people’s initiative is a violation of Sec. 261 of the Omnibus Election Code in relation to Sec. 19 of the Initiative and Referendum Act (RA No. 6735), the lawmaker said.

Lagman cited Sec. 19 of the Initiative and Referendum Act, stating that the Omnibus Election Code and other election laws, not inconsistent with the provisions of this Act, shall apply to all initiatives and referenda.

Lagman also cited Sec. 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, which provides prohibited acts, stating that anyone engaged in vote-buying and vote-selling shall be guilty of an election offense.

During the meeting, Lagman said that they were informed that the people’s initiative would be used as a mode of amending the Constitution. They were given mobilization funds and forms to be signed by at least three percent of the registered voters of the legislative district to which their municipalities belong.

According to the lawmaker, the initiative is seemingly across the country, as congressmen belonging to various political parties have been sent the necessary forms.

Former Ako Bicol partylist lawmaker now executive director of Ako Bicol Alfredo Garbin said that Lagman was not involved in money or the flow of funds that transpired in their meeting held on January 5 at St. Ellis Hotel.

“To be clear, I maintain that there was no such release of money or flow of funds that transpired in the meeting with the purview that it will be in exchange for the voter’s signature.

There is nothing illegal that transpired during the meeting. Interestingly, election laws allow campaign expenditures to be incurred by candidates or political parties to lodge a campaign and generate votes,” Garbin said.


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