MANILA -- A vote-buying case was filed on Thursday against newly-elected Quezon City mayor Joy Belmonte and vice mayor Gian Sotto with two others at the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
In a three-page complaint affidavit, PDP-Laban campaign manager Michael Defensor and secretary general Edwin Rodriguez said the respondents, which also include congressional candidate Elizabeth Delarmante and TV host Willie Revillame, violated the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) for allegedly engaging in vote buying activities when the latter gave cash to the crowd and endorsed the candidates during a campaign rally held along Roosevelt Avenue, Pitimini Street, Quezon City last May 11.
"We are executing this Complaint Affidavit to charge Belmonte, Sotto, Delarmente, and Revillame with vote buying punishable by the Omnibus Election Code," said the complaint filed before the poll body’s Law Department.
The complaint noted that the event, where celebrities were invited as guests including Revillame, was organized to provide the candidates the chance to solicit votes from residents.
During the program, the celebrity along with the candidates, the petitioners alleged gave out cash to the crowd followed by a direct endorsement of the bets.
They added that the entire program was even caught on video since it was broadcast live via the Facebook account of Belmonte.
In the last polls, PDP-Laban endorsed Bingbong Crisologo and Jopet Sison as its mayoral and vice mayoral candidates.
Belmonte: Revillame gave money out of own will
Sought for a comment, Belmonte's camp said Revillame acted on his own when he gave money to the attendees of the event.
In a statement, Pia Morato, spokesperson of the newly-elected mayor explained that such act of the TV personality is part of his performance and what he is known for while giving a show for the public.
“Several circumstances during the campaign rally they mentioned make it clear that Mr. Willie Revillame had acted out of his own intent and as part of a performance. First, the campaign rally had concluded already and was followed by an entertainment spot for Mr. Revillame. Second, he explicitly stated during the performance that he gave materials and cash out of his own funds. Third, he was doing this as part of a routine - one that is so familiar to Filipino audiences nationwide. Indeed, what would a Willie Revillame show be without it?” she said.
Morato, however, noted that the Belmonte will support any probe on the matter.
“Thus, we very much welcome any investigation into the matter so that Comelec can decide for itself based on the facts of the case. For Mayor-elect Joy Belmonte, transparency is a top priority not only in the city's affairs but also in any aspect of her governance,” she said.
She also questioned the timing of the filing of the case.
“The issue was first floated in a press briefing by Mr. Edwin Rodriguez and Congressman-elect Mike Defensor on May 12, yet no case was filed immediately then. It seemed obvious that this was but a public attack designed to hit the Mayor-elect the day before the elections,” Morato said.
“Why are they filing only now? We believe it's because their camp is scrambling to produce a diversion. Comelec is presently investigating the issue of Rep. Vincent Crisologo's fake Absolute Pardon, and Crisologo is refusing to cooperate. The police are also expected to file cases of possible vote-buying and obstruction of justice against Crisologo following his arrest in an alleged vote-buying location just hours before the elections. Crisologo's camp - in their numerous media interviews - have repeatedly stated that they will not give in to this so-called "harassment", she added.
At the same time, Morato urged their critics to stop politicking and accept the decision of the people of Quezon City.
Under the OEC, it is considered as an election offense if one engages in vote-buying, wherein an individual gives, offers, or promises money or anything of value in order to induce the public to vote for or against any candidate.
An election offense carries the penalty of one to six years imprisonment, removal of right to vote, and disqualification to hold public office. (PNA)