Villar scholarships may cost him vote-buying raps
By Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—In a bitterly fought election campaign where poverty is a major issue, self-made billionaire Sen. Manuel Villar may find himself in hot water for having too much money.
Election commissioner Rene Sarmiento on Friday said some people might take issue with the financial bonanzas, including scholarships, given away during Villar’s political rallies and equate that with vote-buying.
“Under Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, the prohibited acts include giving money or anything of value to favor one candidate. It’s called vote-buying,” Sarmiento said. “This applies to everyone,” he said.
Asked if scholarships are covered by that provision, Sarmiento said vote-buying could involve just about “anything.”
“The fact that there is a payment for tuition, books, clothes, even miscellaneous expenses, that is money or anything of value,” he said.
Sarmiento said a complaint needed to be filed at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before the poll body could open an investigation.
“Then, let the wheels of justice roll,” he said.
What the law says
Under the Election Code, vote-buying or vote-selling involves “any person who gives, offers or promises money or anything of value, gives or promises any office or employment, franchise or grant, public or private, or makes or offers to make an expenditure, directly or indirectly, or cause an expenditure to be made to any person, association, corporation, entity, or community in order to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate or withhold his vote in the election, or to vote for or against any aspirant for the nomination or choice of a candidate in a convention or similar selection process of a political party.”
Before the opening of the campaign period last Feb. 9, the giving away of house and lots, cash, groceries and scholarships to participants in a game show sponsored by the Nacionalista Party standard-bearer raised the eyebrows of some Comelec officials.
But at that time, the Comelec said Villar could not be held liable for any election offense because the campaign period had not officially begun.
On Thursday night, the Villar camp held a concert in a mall in Pasay City where the senator’s daughter, Camille, handed out dozens of scholarships to children, some looking as young as 4 years old.
Each scholarship was reportedly worth P70,000 pesos.
The concert, attended by thousands of people, was produced by Camille and hosted by Villar supporter, television host Willie Revillame.
NP: Just ceremonial
NP spokesperson Gilbert Remulla downplayed the distribution of scholarships as a “mere formality and was just ceremonial.”
“The scholarships were awarded prior to the start of the campaign … prior to the election period,” Remulla said on the phone.
He said that the NP had taken all legal aspects into consideration before including the awarding of the scholarships during the rock concert at SM Mall of Asia.
Villar, who built his fortune from real estate, is running neck-and-neck with Liberal Party candidate Sen. Benigno Aquino III in the presidential race, based on surveys.
Last month, after big prizes were distributed at the Villar-sponsored game show, Comelec Chair Jose Melo said the giving away of prizes could not be construed as electioneering as the campaign period had not started.
“He can probably say that he is only donating the prizes,” Melo said at a press briefing at the time. He also admitted there were “loopholes” in the country’s campaign laws.
Manny plays Santa
On Friday, in sorties south of Manila, Villar played Santa to children.
Greeted by kids during his market visits in Batangas and Lipa cities, Villar shelled out P20 bills to each of at least four children who had patiently waited for their turns to shake his hands.
“I didn’t want to give away money because it won’t look good, but I really took pity on them,” Villar told reporters later.
He said he would have preferred to give them food but since it would take time and the crowd was already gathering around him, he decided to reach into his pocket.
Villar toured both the new and old Batangas city markets, then proceeded to a market in Lipa before heeding home. With reports from Nikko Dizon, Michael Ubac and Inquirer Research