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SC affirms junking of vote-buying raps vs. QC mayor Belmonte, others

The Supreme Court has affirmed a Commission on Elections (Comelec) ruling dismissing the vote-buying complaint filed against Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte and others in the 2019 elections.

In an 18-page decision promulgated on January 10 but released only on Monday, the Supreme Court En Banc cleared Belmonte, Quezon City Vice Mayor Gian Carlo Sotto, then councilor Elizabeth Delarmente, and TV host Wilfredo Revillame of the charges.

“In issuing the challenged resolutions, the Comelec En Banc did not commit grave abuse of discretion in dismissing petitioners’ complaint affidavit for lack of probable cause,” it said.

The four were accused of vote-buying during a campaign rally on May 11, 2019 where Revillame gave cash to the crowd on multiple occasions when he was called on stage.

In dismissing the complaint, Comelec said the petitioners failed to establish that vote-buying took place.

“Respondents Belmonte, Sotto, and Delarmente admitted to being present in the event but did not give cash to the attendees of respondent Revillame’s program,” the Comelec said.

“Rather, Revillame gave cash to certain attendees of his program, but without indication that respondents Belmonte, Sotto, and Delarmente were aware or gave consent to such acts,” it added.

Meanwhile, the SC said there must be concrete and direct evidence or strong circumstantial evidence to support the charge of vote-buying.

“Petitioners’ allegation that respondents Belmonte, Sotto, and Delarmente were present when respondents Revillame gave cash to certain persons in the audience hastily concludes that the former were the givers,” it said.

The court said the recipients of the cash stated that Revillame was the source of their gift and not the candidates. They said Revillame also did not ask them if they were registered Quezon City voters.

Quezon City Legal Head Atty. Niño Casimiro extended his gratitude to the Supreme Court over the decision.

“At the onset, the allegations hurled against Mayor Joy Belmonte were fabricated, politically motivated, and merely a last-ditch effort to taint her landslide victory way back in 2019,” he said in a statement.

“Transparency, good governance, and adherence to the rule of law are the cornerstones of her leadership — the primary reasons why Quezon City is where it is now,” he added. —KBK, GMA Integrated News