Gonzales our Bulworth?

Technically, I don’t think any law has been violated by the Secretary of Justice’s claim that he would give monetary rewards to baranggay captains who manage a 12-0 victory for TU in their respective jurisdictions. First, the offer seems not to have been made to voters to influence them to vote straight for TU; rather the offer was made to people who could convince enough people to vote straight.

And so the word ‘incentive’ makes its entry into the country’s electoral lexicon.

The crux of the matter is the definition of vote buying. Under the law, a vote is bought if a person gives or promises to give a valuable consideration – such as money, employment, or anything of value – in order to influence a voter to abstain or to vote for or against a certain candidate. My reading of Gonzales’ statement was that he made no such offer.

What he offered, if you were to study the situation objectively, was a reward – or, yes, an incentive – to people to convince other people to vote a certain way, in effect making these people ‘campaign workers’ after a fashion. And, of course, campaign workers may receive things like salaries and bonuses.

Having said that, I still think that the statements in question leave a bad taste in the mouth. Not all that glitters is gold, Tolkien wrote. And not all that is technically legal is right.

At bottom, this is a question of propriety. Was it proper for the Secretary of Justice to make that statement? I find it hard to say yes; easier, in fact, would be to admit that this whole surreal situation reminds me of Bulworth, especially considering Gonzales’ subsequent statements to the effect that he was merely being pragmatic.  Except, of course, that Bulworth reaps admiration for his candor.

Bulworth movie poster

Still on elections, the NTC once again announces that the COMELEC has no rules for SMS.

Yes, the COMELEC has not come up with rules regulating SMS campaigning, but I believe we have explained our position on this many times in the past. So, just to recap very briefly:

There are two ways to use SMS as a campaign tool. One is through mass broadcasts – called SMS blasts (or something suitably muscular and buzz-wordy) – which are already amply regulated by NTC’s anti-spamming rules; and the other is through text brigades – which involves individuals sending text messages to other people who forward these messages to other people and so on.

This second method that NTC does not regulate and for very good reason. With the proliferation of  pre-paid SIM cards, it is nearly impossible to find out who sent a specific message. Let’s not even touch the issue of whether a text message is a form of free speech; if you can’t find the originator, who are you going to hold responsible for violating election laws?

And besides, think about it: if the NTC – the body specifically tasked to look out for these things – cannot regulate person-to-person texting, how can the COMELEC? Seriously.

Having said that (yet again), let me ask this question: what is wrong with sending campaign messages via SMS?

Does it promote or predispose to runaway spending, such that it would skew the playing field in favor of rich candidates? At one peso a pop, spread out over several levels in the pyramid like texting scheme, you’re looking at a very minor expenditure. A person who sends a ‘Vote for ME!’ message to ten people spends only ten pesos; and so does each of the ten original recipients when they each forward the same message to ten of their friends and so on. So no, SMS campaigning does not predispose to runaway spending, nor skew the playing field.

Does an SMS campaign constitute an invasion of privacy perhaps? Well, maybe. But it isn’t anywhere near as intrusive as telemarketers calling you in the middle of the working day to offer you a three week subscription to some banal newsletter or other. And it isn’t as annoying as those television ads that show up on t.v. just as Gil Grissom is about to get the perp. So, if you receive a text message or five, from a private number, telling you to vote for someone, suck it up!

Naturally, if the messages are clearly machine generated – as when it comes from a 4-digit number – then report to the NTC. Their anti-spam laws cover that situation, much better than either the Omnibus Election Code or the Fair Elections Act – neither of which even contain the word “cellular” anywhere in their hundreds of pages.

So, SMS campaigns aren’t that expensive, and they generally aren’t that intrusive. Why then, should they be regulated? If the annoyance of a handful of people who received messages from candidates they loathe is the only basis for such regulation, then there is no basis at all.  Just don’t vote for them, dudes.

18 Responses

  1. propriety should be the order of the day. we can’t effectively enforce election laws when the ones who should help us implement them are giving bright ideas to politicians to run rings on poll officials. that’s why candidates are hard headed and even have the gall to lecture us on what is right and what is wrong. how then can we institute reforms?

  2. Hello, remarque.

    I am firm believer in the idea that reform should begin from within. The impropriety of others – while it makes things more difficult for us – is of very little significance compared to the propriety of our own actions. So, the road to instituting reforms, I believe is to make sure that we ourselves act beyond all reproach. If we cannot clean up our own acts, there is no way in hell we can tell others to clean up theirs.

    Which is why I am very thankful that there are alot of COMELEC field officials who exhibit a great deal of idealism and the drive to act always in a principled manner. These men and women will, I believe, lead the way.

  3. …especially considering Gonzales’ subsequent statements to the effect that he was merely being pragmatic.

    Pragmatism is just an excuse for an absence of principles. It was vote-buying pure and simple.

    First, the offer seems not to have been made to voters to influence them to vote straight for TU; rather the offer was made to people who could convince enough people to vote straight.

    This statement would be true if the barangay officials werent voters. Correct me if Im wrong, Mr. Jimenez but that’s exactly what they are. Sec Gonzales was buying the votes of the barangay officials, telling them in effect to “vote 12-0 and convince others to do so, and youll get your money.”

    Mr. Ravanzo is correct. The COMELEC should show that they won’t stand for this and file the appropriate charges against the Secretary, then let the Supreme Court decide, since obviously this thing will be settled not by the COMELEC.

  4. Absolutely nobody believe you or the Comelec on the matter of the insurance cards and the Genuino food. You guys are skating on thin ice now with this matter. You will surely fall through it if you keep going like this. It’s obvious to every reasonable person that these acts constitute vote buying. You were pitiful just now talking to Pia Hontiveros. I hope you all go to jail, or worse!

  5. Hi DJB, thanks for finding your way here again. So, you suggest we don’t go through due process and just shoot every body who we think ‘obviously’ violated a campaign rule?

    What about those who only look guilty?

  6. Hi Jeg. Nice to see you here once more. I don’t like Gonzales’ statements anymore than you do. But we can’t just ignore due process, can we? We’ve already directed the law department to investigate this matter. This blog represents only my opinion and the law department might see it in an entirely different way.

  7. Did Gonzalez whisper his intent to the Barangay Captains or did he announce it to the Public? And how would we to know that this reward money if materialized wouldn’t filter down to the voters? Spin the issue the way you like it, but it this is in our shores, this will necessitate not just an electoral body investigation, but a police, or even an inquiry, but so far, no Stupid public official, much less a Cabinet minister even think along that line. Pathetic…

  8. Hi vic. We all have to start somewhere. And the COMELEC investigation is a good starting point I should think.

  9. jimenez, glad that the COMELEC had started somewhere. just hope, as everyone does that it has the guts to finish what it started. As JP Kingsley (our chief Electoral officer)would say, the day he can’t perform his job as mandated, the day he quits and he did, because he could not stand the current PM. And the argument was so trivia. The PM contended that he didn’t exceed the contribution limit, because the money he contributed during the Party convention, can not be considered as such because overall the convention lost money, The Chief thought otherwise. Eventually the Chief won and PM agreed to consider that for the next year’s contribution.

  10. vic, I hope so too. Did you know – I’m guessing you probably do – that Kingsley is the incoming head of IFES, replacing Richard Soudriette? Glad he’s not totally leaving the world of election management.

  11. Yes, it was expected when he quit. But most expect JP to work for the UN in more or less the same capacity. We are all very happy for him. He had served us well for 17 good years. thanks..

  12. I trust youll keep us posted, Mr. Jimenez. It must be frustrating for a COMELEC insider like CEO Remarque because you can see from his posts that he wants the COMELEC to enforce the election laws. Key word: Enforce. Not seek an accommodation with the politicians, not to negotiate with them, not to get bogged down by questions of practicality or pragmatism, but to enforce electoral laws. You said, “So, the road to instituting reforms, I believe is to make sure that we ourselves act beyond all reproach.” You do this my applying the law equally to everybody. The Secretary’s actions is not “of little significance.” By being decisive on this, the COMELEC is on its way to being beyond reproach.

  13. Jeg, that was a lucid comment, and I thank you for it. But please don’t misread me.

    There is no accomodation or negotiation going on here. Nor do I subscribe to Gonzales’ statements about pragmatism. I was merely pointing out that his statements on pragmatism reminded me of a movie I once saw.

    Is the Secretary’s action of little significance? Yes it is, but only when compared to the propriety of our own actions. Because believe me, you and I will forget Gonzales’ verbal-vomit just as soon as a COMELEC official does something wrong. But this reality does not detract a whit from the offensiveness of what he did.

    It seems that I may not have written clearly enough to be understood that I think Gonzales’ actions were improper.

  14. I assure you I didnt misread you, Mr. Jimenez. I know that you didnt think the Secretary’s actions were proper, since, really, who in his right mind would? And I also understood you perfectly when you said that your own personal opinion is that he didnt do anything wrong technically.

    Let me clarify what I meant by ‘accommodation’. When CEO Ravanzo lamented “we can’t effectively enforce election laws when the ones who should help us implement them are giving bright ideas to politicians to run rings on poll officials,” that is what I meant by accommodation, because clearly, Mr. Ravanzo, if I read him correctly, didnt want to accommodate this type of behavior. He wants these people nailed; he wants the laws enforced. (As do you, Im sure.) No one should run rings around election officials with technicalities and appeals to pragmatism.

    It might be true that when a COMELEC official does something wrong we would forget the Secretary. That’s because we hold you guys to a higher standard. You should be purer than Caesar’s wife. That’s why we feel a profound sense of betrayal when a COMELEC official is even suspected of impropriety.

    (Im linking this blog to my blog if you dont mind. I want more eyes on what the COMELEC is doing.😉 )

  15. Fair enough, Jeg. And I totally agree about Caesar’s wife.

    I can’t seem to find your blog tho.

  16. Sorry. Nick now has a link to the blog page. Thanks.

  17. […] The Comelec law department is not the only one lawyering for the regime. Comelec spokesman James Jimenez is giving out legal opinions too. […]

  18. gents,

    had time to check out the old posts. and i was surprised to know that my comment elicited a healthy discussion. i must say sir james that reforms should really start from within. if the very ones who should be at our side fail to aid us in trying times, the heed for change will just fall on deaf ears. i really, really want to see the day when everyone has a very high regard for the comelec and the responsibilities it has been tasked to do. all is not lost.

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