Oplan: Tokhang and some tips to stop vote-buying

MY friends from the police force and I have discussed some valuable lessons they have learned when they tried very hard to stop vote-buying and vote-selling during the recent national and local elections, and I’m sharing some valuable tips that probably could finally put a dent on the old-age problem of ‘gold’ being used to win an elective seat in the country.

First, there should be really a ‘whole-of-nation’ approach to combat the problem and in the case of the recent polls, it should not only be the Office of the President, the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police which should be going after vote-buyers and sellers. All government agencies should be involved in this fight.

When talking of all government agencies, they include the Commission on Election and the Anti-Money Laundering Council. I’m saying this amid a complaint from some police regional directors about the seemingly reluctant behaviors of their local poll officials in mounting a real fight against vote-buying and selling. Some RDs whispered to me that they were given the order by the poll body to go after vote-buyers and sellers two or three days before the actual polls.

Within that very short period, I think that the scheme was already in place, highly-systemized and police could not do better anymore. What we need is for a very long period of time to really conduct an honest-to-goodness campaign to prevent the wanton violation of the Omnibus Election Code. Why not try an Oplan: Tokhang versus vote-buyers and vote-sellers?

Given full authority by the Comelec, police intelligence agents and their counterparts should monitor suspected ‘distribution hubs’ of money being used to buy votes. This will require lengthy surveillance operations and tips from the public but what the heck. This operation can be compared to a top-level mission to bust a secret shabu laboratory using the so-called ‘controlled delivery’ operation where couriers are left untouched but tailed until they get to their main sources.

There is also a need for AMLAC to participate in the campaign. Huge and frequent bank withdrawals before the election should be ‘red-flagged’ amid the possibility that the money will be used to buy votes. I heard some reports that in the provinces, some local banks experienced massive cash withdrawals months before the election.

Shortly after the poll was over, the banks were flooded with a big number of people depositing crisp bills which actually came from them in the first place. In short, those banks have to again hire more persons to count the money again being deposited to them.

I still remember too that before the 2010 election, the former Aquino administration ordered the demonetization of Philippine currencies then in circulation. Holders of old P1,000, P500, P100, P50 and P20 bills were ordered to return them to Central Bank or they won’t be legal tenders anymore as soon as the deadline is over.  Me and my friends agreed then that it could be a brilliant government idea to force politicians and would-be candidates to exchange their money in the bank and be monitored by authorities.

That’s not far-fetched since politicians and government officials who have plans to run for elective posts naturally won’t make huge bank deposits while still in office lest they want to be ‘red-flagged’ by the government. It’s the reason why there have been legendary stories about government, police and military officials hiding money in their houses, with others even buying huge vaults just to stock their money.

If that’s the case, how can an official who is keeping hundreds of millions or even billions of pesos in his safety vault exchange them immediately once the Central Bank again declares old money will be replaced anew with new legal tenders a few years from now.

Last Monday, my friend, PNP chief, General Oscar Albayalde told me that there really is a need for a ‘whole-of-nation’ approach to totally stop vote-buying and selling and other violation of the Omnibus Election Code. The top cop even confided to me that President Duterte was hell-bent on arresting vote-buying and selling last week that he even sent his Cabinet secretaries to their hometowns to lead presidential task forces created to stop it.

“It’s really a first in our history. Others may not have not noticed it too but was only during the last May 13 national and local elections that police effectively stopped the distribution of campaign materials and pamphlets, all those ‘polyetos’ inside and outside polling precincts. In fact, I have ordered the investigation of police ground commanders who failed to comply with my instructions regarding the said matter,” Gen. Albayalde said.

Other police officials agreed that major bank withdrawals before the election should be thoroughly monitored specifically if the huge withdrawals are being made by candidates. This comes in the wake of the confiscation of over P12 million in crisp bills by the police before and during the recent election in different parts of the country.

Gen. Albayalde said that the Office of the President ordered a crackdown on vote-buying and selling after police last May 5 arrested 10 suspected vote-buyers in Bacoor City in Cavite whom reelected Governor Jonvic Remulla said were his supporters giving out instructions to their poll watchers.

Believe it or not but rice and eggs, not only crisp P20, P50, P100, P500 and P1,000 bills, were also used to buy votes in the last elections, said the PNP chief who revealed that his men confiscated 62 sacks of rice and 22 trays of eggs which have been used for buying votes of the people last week apart from the total P12,208,958.00 recovered in anti-vote-buying operations across the country.

A total of 225 incidents were recorded with 356 persons arrested and eight  minors rescued during those operations.  However, although the PNP chief thanked the public for reporting to them poll irregularities,  Gen. Albayalde said that lack of cooperation from the arrested vote-buyers and sellers for sure will hamper their investigation and their effort to secure conviction.

“Walang umaamin sa mga arestadong suspects kung saan galling ang pera. Yan ang isang problema,” he said.