AN independent candidate running for councilor in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte and two of his companions were arrested for alleged vote-buying.
Police investigators said Melvin dela Cuesta, a candidate for the Sangguniang Panglungsod (SP) and his companions, Melvin Gramaje and Rogelio Andres, were arrested on Monday night in Barangay Balatong.
Confiscated from the suspects were two belt bags containing a list of recipients of the cash with signatures; a bundle of P50 bills amounting to P2,300; a cellphone and a fan knife.
Police said they received a tip through a phone call from unidentified citizen that a candidate in the local elections was distributing money in Barangay Balatong, allegedly in exchange for a vote in the May 9 elections.
Responding policemen said that while approaching the village, they saw a group of people huddled on the street, but they immediately dispersed upon seeing them.
The officers immediately took hold of the three suspects, who were left when others hastily left the group.
De la Cuesta, however, was rushed to the hospital after his blood pressure shot up.
He denied buying votes, insisting that they were only campaigning, and blamed his opponents for falsely accusing them.
“I was only framed up by my opponents. I was never engaged in vote buying,” de la Cuesta said.
He said the money and notebook reportedly found in their possession are not his. He added the policemen forcibly searched his tricycle without a warrant.
Police filed a case for violation of the Omnibus Election Code in relation to illegal possession of a deadly weapon and vote buying against de la Cuesta.
Lawyer Julius Balbas, Laoag City election officer, said the incident can be a ground for disqualification case against de la Cuesta should the court find him guilty.
The arrest was the first vote buying case so far reported in the region.
Police said that vote-buying and vote-selling are perennial problems in Ilocos Norte based on past records.
They added that since the start of the campaign period in March, they have been receiving countless reports of alleged vote buying.
However, they could not act on the allegations for lack of sufficient evidence against a candidate or political supporter accused of vote buying.
Reports showed that massive vote buying is more rampant in areas where opposing candidates are reportedly strong.