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Comelec to submit draft bill on new Election Code to Congress by year end

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is eyeing to submit a 964-page draft bill on the new Omnibus Election Code to Congress before the end of the year, Comelec chairperson George Garcia said Wednesday.

Garcia disclosed this during the Kapihan sa Manila Bay forum as he discussed the need to strengthen their authority to arrest those who violate election laws, particularly those who have multiple registrations and those who are involved in vote-buying and vote-selling.

“That’s why the Comelec is proposing the revision of the entire Omnibus Election Code. Meron po kaming 964 pages na,” Garcia said.

He said there are draft bills already in the Senate and the House of Representatives, but the Comelec’s version had incorporated all the proposed revisions to the OEC.

“’Yung sa amin pinagsama-sama na namin. Isa-submit po namin siguro before the end of the year,” he said.

[Ours is a compilation. We will submit it before the end of the year.]

Among the provisions of the OEC that should be revised is the prohibition of arrests during the campaign period, Garcia said.

Garcia, a former election lawyer, however, explained that this provision is “impliedly repealed” by the 1987 Constitution as it allows warrantless arrest.

“We will authorize the PNP to arrest in flagrante de licto [caught in the act]…Papayagan namin ang arrest kung on the spot nakita na namimili o nagbebenta ng boto,” Garcia said.

[We will allow the arrest if one is caught in the act of vote-buying or vote-selling.]

Those who may be arrested are individuals who will be found flocking inside the candidates’ residences one day before elections, Garcia said.

The Comelec will presume that the involved candidate is “guilty of vote buying,” he added.

The Comelec chief likewise stated that they will talk to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the Anti-Money Laundering Council to identify individuals who are using modern ways of transferring money to buy votes.

Garcia said they presume vote-buying when an individual, for example, is sending P1,000 to 200 persons during the election period.

In April, Comelec spokesperson Rex Laudiangco said the poll body has converted the task force against vote buying into a permanent committee.

The commissioner-in-charge for the Committee on Kontra Bigay is Commissioner Ernesto Maceda Jr.

In the 2022 national and local elections, the Comelec launched Task Force Kontra Bigay to prevent vote-buying during the campaign season.

The task force, headed by Commissioner Aimee Ferolino, was composed of several government agencies including the Department of Justice, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and Philippine Information Agency.

It aims to act motu proprio as well as on formal complaints involving vote-buying.

Vote-buying and vote-selling are considered as an election offense under Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code.

Any person found guilty of election offense shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years.

Also, those found guilty will be denied the right to vote and prohibited from holding public office, and any political party found guilty of vote-buying will be fined. — RSJ, GMA Integrated News