POSTSCRIPT / November 2, 2021 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Vote-buying/selling a sin? It all depends

It’s Sunday today, dear brethren, and it may be a good day as any to talk about sin in general and the alleged sinfulness of selling our election vote in particular.

The debate on sin has been raging for ages, since poor Eve reportedly accepted an apple or some sweet inducement in exchange for her vote for the excitement of Knowledge versus the bliss of Innocence. The rest, as lazy storytellers would say, is history.

Rewind to the waning days of the martial rule of the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Then Jaime Cardinal Sin, the archbishop of Manila, told his flock asking about the morality of selling one’s vote in the 1986 snap election – Take the money and vote your conscience!

Now back to the present as we prepare for the 2022 national elections: Vice President Leni Robredo stoked the discussion when she gave kasambahay (domestic help) in a virtual forum the same advice to accept the money, if offered, and then vote for their honest choices.

But Director James Jimenez, the Commission on Elections spokesman, butted in to point out that buying/selling one’s vote is a crime under the election code, and that under no circumstances should the evil deed be encouraged.

Robredo, the opposition candidate for president, who herself had prosecuted vote-buying cases as a volunteer lawyer before she became active in politics, clarified that her remarks in the forum may have been taken out of context.

Mali yung pagbibili ng boto, pero ‘yung sinasabi ko sa tao, tanggapin niyo. Parati kong sinasabi tanggapin niyo kasi galing rin naman ‘yan sa atin. Yung pinambibili ng boto, pera din naman ‘yan ng taumbayan,” Robredo said. (Vote buying is wrong, but I tell people, accept the money. I always say accept it since that came from us. It is the money of the people.)

Another prelate – Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas – followed up in a video message on social media that selling/buying votes is a sin, but could be justifiable. The former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines said in Filipino:

“Vote buying and selling is a sin to God and against the law. But if you are hungry, if you are needy, you may accept it but do not fulfill that which is asked of you because if a candidate is doing something illegal and awful and you’re being involved, tell him – ‘perform that misdeed on your own, leave me out of it’.

“You may accept the money, but not because you promise to fulfill your end of the deal, but because you are in dire need for yourself and your family. You are not obliged to fulfill an immoral, illegal contract. This means, when something bad was agreed upon, something awful is asked of you, so whatever you do, choose God, not the candidate buying your vote.”

That reminded us of Victor Hugo confronting in his Les Misérables some moral issues in 19th-century urban France reeling from what may look familiar to us – economic hardships amid a cholera epidemic complicated by inequitable wealth distribution and a faulty justice system.

Freed from prison, the main character Jean Valjean broke parole and was later able to use ill-gotten wealth (sounds familiar?) to reinvent himself as a mayor and factory owner. But he continued to be pursued by the hounds of the law.

* * *

WE citizens are often reminded that the law may be harsh but it’s the law. It is sad that to many plain folk in contemporary Philippines, the law is actually what the police, the judges, the oligarchs and those who carry the guns say it is.

This being Sunday, however, we will not digress into that grim subject and risk discussing what has happened in those dark alleys where the law had not always been lawful, as bereaved families of Tokhang EJK victims would attest.

Back to the original question “Is vote-buying/selling a sin?”, someone is bound to ask what is “sin” in the first place?

Going by our catechism and nothing deeper, sin is a transgression of the divine law. None of the 10 Commandments says “Thou shalt not sell your vote”, but there is man’s conscience through which God tells him/us what is right or wrong and to follow what is right.

Suffice it for the moment for me to just lay down, without elaborating, my general premise that the phenomenon is created by the point of view taken.

Am I saying that sin is relative? Possibly, like most things are. What is sinful to Juan may not look sinful to Tomas, in the same way that what may be corruption and betrayal of public trust in the eyes of Sen. Dick Gordon may not be so to President Duterte.

Something tells me I better walk back before I paint myself into a corner and be forced to spend time defending a notion that selling one’s vote is a qualified sin – meaning it depends on one’s intention and other circumstances.

Whatever, we’re glad and reassured to have a Cardinal Sin and a Father Soc telling voters who may be put to the test to accept the money (actually it’s tax extracted from us) and vote our conscience.

So all ye vote-sellers (but not the buyers!), go in peace. Your sins are forgiven them!

We cannot leave the subject without saying that we concur with Jimenez’s opinion that vote-buying/selling is a crime if all the elements making the act criminal are present  – regardless of whether or not it is a sin in the compassionate eyes of the Church.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 2, 2021)

Dear Sir Pascual, Buying or selling votes will never be moral and should never be legal, whatever the reason. If you are offered an amount, you may accept it but you have to explicitly inform the buyer that you will vote the candidate of your choice, just to make it clear that the money is not a payment but a donation to you (the recipient).

Edgar

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