By Johanna M. Sampan And Catherine Valente Reporters
Faced with defiance by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and rejection by Malacañang, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has practically given up on the “money ban” it wants to impose to curb vote-buying.
In a supplemental resolution on Thursday, the commission en banc said it will allow withdrawals beyond P100,000 if the concerned banks can determine it as being “routine and regular.”
It said banks may use the “Know-Your-Client/Customer” policy of the BSP that requires banks “not only to establish the identity of their clients but also to have background knowledge of their normal business transactions.”
The Comelec also revised its prohibition on the transporting of more than P500,000 in cash, saying it may now accept “tenable justifications.”
“The possession, transportation and/or carrying of cash exceeding P500,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency from May 8 to 13, shall be presumed for the purpose of vote-buying and electoral fraud when the same is without tenable justification or whenever attended by a genuine reason,” the poll body’s Resolution 9688-A stated.
In the initial order, the commission “prohibited” the possession, transport, and carrying of cash exceeding P500,000 since this will be presumed to be for the purpose of vote-buying and electoral fraud.
Despite the revisions, the commission stood firm in its directive on the implementation of a 24-hour money ban checkpoint.
It added that a “warrantless search” can be done on vehicles if a substantial amount of cash is in plain view; the vehicle is neither searched nor its occupant/s subjected to a body search, and the inspection of the vehicle is merely limited to a visual search; when the occupant/s of the vehicle appear to be nervous or suspicious or exhibit unnatural reaction; if the officer conducting the search has reasonable or probable cause to believe that either the occupant/s is a law offender or that the instrumentality or evidence pertaining to the commission of a crime can be found in the vehicle to be searched; or, on the basis of prior confidential information, that are reasonably corroborated by other attendant matters.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said violating the money ban will be considered an election offense.
Vote-buying, also an election offense, is defined as “giving, offering or promising money or anything of value directly or indirectly, in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate.”
An election offense carries a penalty of one to six years imprisonment, removal of right to vote, and disqualification from running for public office.
The money ban resolution was signed by Brillantes, commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elisa Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim and Grace Padaca.
However, the two new commissioners, Luie Guia and Al Parreño, expressed reservations against the resolution.
“The Commission doesn’t have enough information on, nor does it have the institutional expertise to determine the possible unforeseen adverse effect of the “money Ban” resolution on the conduct of legitimate business and trade particularly involving certain sectors,” Guia said.
“While the ban can indeed have a positive effect substantially limiting the practice of vote buying by plugging the source of money temporarily, the impact of such ban beyond the election cannot be sufficiently anticipated,” he added.
Parreño agreed with Guia’s statement.
“Resolution 9688 fails to set adequate and specific guidelines that would constrain the discretion of the law enforcer in the enforcement of the resolution in ways that would ensure minimal intrusion into otherwise protected freedoms,” he said.
The BSP on Wednesday said it will not enforce the ban, saying it will disrupt normal business and commercial transactions.
A group of thrift banks also opposed the Comelec resolution.
On Thursday, President Benigno Aquino 3rd also rejected the Comelec resolution imposing a money ban.
President Aquino said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. has already talked to Brillantes to express his opposition.
“Secretary of Justice [Leila de Lima] tells me that under the Constitution, there is need for my concurrence on this matter and I have not given the concurrence,” Aquino added.
Although a cash ban may curb vote-buying, the President said the resolution may disrupt business and the economy in the country.
He described the cash ban as a “shotgun approach” against vote-buying.
“Maganda iyong konsepto—well maganda iyong idea pero mali siguro ‘yung paano mo ipatutupad [ [It is a good concept—it is a good idea but the implementation is wrong],” hesaid
“Parang equivalent rin sa sinabing: ‘Ihinto natin ‘yung ekonomiya from— parang during the time of the ban’. And I don’t think that is the intention of Comelec [It’s like saying: ‘Let’s stop the economy from running during the time of the ban’. And I don’t think that is the intention of Comelec],” he added.
The President said supermarkets and fast food restaurants engage in transactions from P100,000 to P500,000 a day, and these will likely be affected by the cash restriction.
“There are some exceptional branches raw that will take in half a million in transactions a day,” he said. “Talagang parang mas maraming mapapahirapan imbes na matulungan [There will be more people impeded than helped].”
Meanwhile, Mr. Aquino gave assurances that law enforcement agencies continue to step up their efforts to curb vote-buying.
He added that cases are being readied against persons involved in the illegal activity.