[Exclusive] COMELEC SPOX Warns: Vote-buying Using Crypto is Election Offense

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By Michael Lance M. Domagas

Blockchain technology has gradually made its way towards mass adoption in the Philippines, particularly in branches like trade and commerce. As elections draw near on May 9th, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) spokesperson James Arthur B. Jimenez warns against using cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and other electronic payments for vote-buying, as it constitutes a crime.

What is Vote Buying?

“Vote-buying remains a crime however you receive the money. Ang importante diyan, it’s not even money—[it can be,] specifically, puwedeng value of any sort,” said Education and Information Department (EID) Director IV and COMELEC Spokesperson James Arthur B. Jimenez in a Twitter Spaces session. He added that “Pangako nga, puwede maging vote-buying.”

The recording of the Twitter Space can be accessed here:

https://twitter.com/i/spaces/1ypJdENYldyxW?s=20

Article XXII Section 261 of Batas Pambansa Bilang 881 (otherwise known as the Omnibus Election Code) describes vote-buying and vote-selling as:

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.

Vote Buying Using Crypto is a Crime

Any person, association, corporation, group or community who solicits or receives, directly or indirectly, any expenditure or promise of any office or employment, public or private, for any of the foregoing considerations.

“It doesn’t really matter kung ano ‘yong means. [It] could be through actual money—as you said ‘fiat money’… It could be through a calling card or a promise of influence, or it could be through Bitcoin or GCash, whatever. That would still be a crime,”

Comelec SPokesperson James JImenez

When it comes to new and emerging technologies, Jimenez admits that enforcing laws can be challenging. “COMELEC is not at the forefront of the digital divide because that’s not our core business. But we are cooperating with the agencies whose core business it is to stay ahead of these trends. For example, DICT [Department of Information and Communications Technology] for the tech side, PNP [Philippine National Police] and NBI [National Bureau of Investigation] for the law enforcement side.” He added that “Hindi kami ang magde-develop ng approaches to solve these problems. That will be the job of the agencies whose main business it is to stay ahead of those trends.”

Jimenez reminds that “As far as COMELEC is concerned, again, whatever you use to buy votes, our concern is that you’re buying votes and that’s the crime itself. That’s the election offense.

With the proliferation of online gambling and casinos in the Philippines, betting or wagering upon results of elections is also an election offense. Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code states:

Any person who bets or wagers upon the outcome of, or any contingency connected with an election. Any money or thing of value or deposit of money or thing of value situated anywhere in the Philippines put as such bet or wager shall be forfeited to the government.

Penalties include 1–6 years of imprisonment. According to Section 264:

Any person found guilty of any election offense under this Code shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation. In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage. If he is a foreigner, he shall be sentenced to deportation which shall be enforced after the prison term has been served. Any political party found guilty shall be sentenced to pay a fine of not less than ten thousand pesos, which shall be imposed upon such party after criminal action has been instituted in which their corresponding officials have been found guilty.

Campaign donations coursed through blockchain

When it comes to donations, contributions, and expenditures during electoral campaigns, both donors and candidates need to adhere to existing rules and regulations of the election process. This includes declarations from both parties involved in donation and contribution, including the use of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technologies. “However you donate, kailangang mayroon kang acceptance na ibibigay. So, kung magdo-donate ka through a system that uses blockchain, for example mag-donate ka ng crypto, kailangan mo pa rin i-declare ‘yan. Ang COMELEC naman, agnostic sa uri ng teknolohiyang gagamitin,” Jimenez stated.

Article XI Section 94 of the Omnibus Election Code describes contribution including “a gift, donation, subscription, loan, advance or deposit of money or anything of value, or a contract, promise or agreement to contribute, whether or not legally enforceable, made for the purpose of influencing the results of the elections but shall not include services rendered without compensation by individuals volunteering a portion or all of their time in behalf of a candidate or political party.”

As far as COMELEC is concerned, ‘yung existing laws natin na sa tingin ko magco-cover sa Bitcoin or crypto transactions, it’s the same. Kailangan pa rin ng deed of donation at tsaka ng acceptance from the candidate and then doon sa acceptance na ‘yon, naka-deklara dapat ‘yung value, kung saan nakalagak ang pera, whatever it is,” he said. “Ang mas relevant, kung magkano ‘yung value na tinransfer,”

James Jimenez, Comelec

Soliciting or receiving funds from foreign sources, whether “directly or indirectly, any aid or contribution of whatever form or nature from any foreign national, government or entity for the purposes of influencing the results of the election” is prohibited under Section 96. Full disclosure of the contributor is required under Section 98, “No person shall make any contribution in any name except his own nor shall any candidate or treasurer of a political party receive a contribution or enter or record the same in any name other than that of the person by whom it was actually made.”

Implementing blockchain in the electoral process

In a Facebook post, Political Science Professor Clarita Carlos suggests using blockchain as means in stopping rigging and fraud and also to promote the integrity of the ballot. However, a proof-of-concept has to be established first before adopting blockchain into the electoral process. Jimenez said that “Kailangan makakita muna tayo ng proof-of-concept ng gamit sa eleksyon at case study. Isa sa nakikita nating posibleng mapanggagalingan ng proof-of-concept is Internet voting na isinuong ng ating overseas voting. The idea is to get a baseline of knowledge para maihain sa ating Kongreso. Hopefully, mapag-aralan ng Kongreso yan, maisama sa batas natin.”

Jimenez doubts that blockchain is widely used in the Philippines, but sees the potential in the development of these technologies. “Hindi ko siya nakikita na gamit na gamit ng mga tao ang blockchain. In fact, even among professionals, you have to really look to find someone who knows how it actually works, much less identify a system that uses blockchain. For the most part, people will say blockchain or Bitcoin but beyond that wala na. Admittedly, growing market ‘yan, malaking bagay ‘yan,” he said.

“Blockchain is just the latest in the new string of technologies and we are not ruling it out. Possible po ‘yan, especially kung pag-uusapan natin ay electronic voting. I would just like to point out that hindi pa tayo electronic voting ngayon so yung ledger system natin magagamit doon sa transmission at canvassing. Pero let’s be honest, hindi pa tayo naka-setup for that,” Jimenez added. COMELEC believes that technology can bring trustworthy solutions but the government agency does not give favor to a particular technology.

Naniniwala ang COMELEC na ang teknolohiya ay puwedeng magdala ng mas trustworthy na solusyon at hindi kami titigil sa pagsusubok niyan. ‘Yung automated election system (AES) natin for example is exactly of that sort of thinking, that technology can help improve our election systems,” Jimenez said.

This article is published on BitPinas: Vote-buying Using Crypto is Election Crime, COMELEC SPOX Warns

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Michael Lance Domagas

    A Filipino freelance software developer, digital marketer, events host and organizer, talent and actor, and community leader, Michael Lance M. Domagas has a deep passion in cultivating and building the technology and developer communities in the Philippines. With the fast pace of technological evolution and advancement, many find it very difficult to catch-up and be updated. He helps fellow Filipinos learn technologies by sharing knowledge through community engagements.