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.
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.