The Influence Of Money In Philippine Elections

Election campaigns are now on the roll. Politicians are getting busy thinking of many ways to ensure their victory in the coming elections. Different strategies and techniques are being used by these candidates in order to win the votes of the people. Aside from the techniques and strategies, money plays a huge role in every Philippine elections. The ability to win of the candidate lies on how much money he or she is going to spend for this coming election.

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The aspiring candidates will definitely spend a large amount of money to catch the hearts of the voters even if it means performing an illegal act. A single vote is very precious and essential for the win a candidate. And in order to possess this single sure vote, candidates resort to buying the votes of the people.

Vote buying is overt in the Philippines. It is a disease that continuously rots our political and electoral system. It has already become institutionalized in our system and remains constant despite the condemnation of many Filipinos. Before, vote buying is usually the last recourse of a rich but unpopular candidate to hold a position in office. But today, even popular ones are engaging themselves to this kind of activity because popularity per se is not enough to assure the vote of the electorate especially in local politics.

Vote buying reflects a powerful image of graft and corruption. It is just the stepping stone for doing a more fraudulent act.

The vicious cycle of vote buying and vote selling in the Philippines is becoming more and more alarming. This paper aims to answer the nature of vote buying, strategies of vote buying in the Philippines, the reasons for doing vote buying and vote selling and to trace the history of vote buying in the Philippines.


Vote buying, according to Hicken (2006), includes the individual, immediate and private exchange of goods, services or cash for electoral support, usually in violation of legal norms. It simply means giving out or handing out money to leaders and voters. It also means getting the vote of the people to ensure winning. Vote buying is also a form of economic exchange (Schaffer, 2002) because there is money involve.


Vote buying can be categorized into two types: direct vote buying and indirect vote buying. Both types are widely used in the case of the Philippines although the idea of direct vote buying serves as the more popular act.


It is the most common type of vote buying where direct payments, in many forms, are given to the voter. It may be in the form of cash donations, shares of stock or a promise of a particular plan of action or payment in exchange for a promise of vote (Dekel, E., et. al., 2004).


It is a kind of vote buying done in a non obvious and straightforward approach. This type of vote buying uses campaign strategies that target the weaknesses of the electorate. Here in the Philippines, the strategy of the candidates is to use and take advantage of the different Filipino traits. Example of these traits are our values of utang na loob, pakikisama, our close family and kinship ties, our religiousness, and other social values like loyalty, support and trust. They effectively use the various traits to influence and temp us to follow their selfish plans.

Bava (1998) gave a concrete example on how this character capitalization happens. Different parties and candidates hire poll watchers and workers who are tasked to distribute sample ballots for their party. Each poll watchers and ballot distributors are given 1500 pesos and 500 pesos respectively, per day of work from 7 am to 3 pm. A poll watcher only needs 4 things in order to land the job: 1) a ball pen 2) a tally sheet 3) at least 18 years of age and 4) a registered vote (Bava, 1998). The last requirement is the most important and advantageous in the part of the candidates. If the hired person is a registered voter, the employer will be sure that the employer’s vote will go to him or her. A person offered with this kind of job will definitely take the opportunity given all the privileges and comfort that it can give. They can earn almost 1500 pesos a day by just distributing pamphlets and sample ballots. Adding to the convenience is the free meals given to them by their employer. And if the candidate won in the elections, most of them are given permanent jobs in various government offices. This is where indirect vote buying takes place. This act, according to Bava (1998), displays the Filipino trait of utang na loob. If a person has done something good to us, we would do anything and everything to return that goodness. In this case, the poll watchers and other employees will feel obligated to vote the candidate/employer because of the job that was given to them.


Money is the common type of material that the candidates use in order to buy votes. But vote buying not only takes the form of money. It can be other forms of material offers. Schedler (2002) and Schaffer (2002) made a list that summarizes the different kinds of offers into three categories.

The first and the most common form is payment. A payment is an amount of money paid. Schedler (2002, p.4) described it as a “commercial relationship in which partners trade equivalent values.” The citizen trades his vote in exchange of money. The act of accepting money denotes that there is an indirect agreement between the giver and the receiver of the payment.

The second kind of material offer takes the form of gifts. A gift is something that is given out of free will without paying something in return. In the context of vote buying, accepting a gift does not give you the responsibility and obligation of voting the giver.

The last kind is in the form of wage. A wage is an amount of money paid in exchange of services rendered. Like gifts, it does not require any obligation to the candidate.


According to Schaffer (2002), there are three factors that affect the strategies of the candidates and the perception of the voters toward vote buying. These are socioeconomic, institutional and political factors. The first factor both affects the candidate’s strategies and the voter’s perception while the last two factors affect mainly the strategies of the candidates.


One of the socioeconomic factors is the social class (Hicken, 2006). The formulation of the different strategies is influenced by social classes existing in society. The candidate must make a strategy that can produce strong and favorable impressions on people from different walks of life. It should cater to the needs of the entire high, middle and low class population. But it is impossible to come up with such strategies given that there is a massive gap and conflicting interests present among these social classes. Different social classes connote different needs and expectations. A strategy that might work to the lower class might be ineffective to the middle and higher class or a strategy that may be good to the higher class might harm those belonging in the lower class. Adding to the problem is the unequal number of population belonging to a certain social class. In the Philippines, the population of the lower class is greater than the population of the middle and higher class combined. The solution to these is to focus the strategy to those who constitute the majority. The easiest and most effective strategy to garner votes is to buy the votes of those who are included in this majority (which is the lower class). It will be very effective since those who belong in this class are financially unable who need money to sustain their everyday living. This scenario is very prevalent in the Philippines since many are members of the lower class. Almost all politicians who are running in office are focusing their campaign on the less fortunate because to them, greater number of voters means more number of votes and more number of votes means greater chances of winning.

The second socioeconomic factor is education (Hicken, 2006) which affects the voter’s view about vote buying. For the high and some middle class voters, vote buying is a deviant and somehow an immoral behavior. Those in the higher and middle class are strong attackers of this practice. They are advocates of different anti-vote buying campaigns and they are known for organizing movements that educate the people about this kind of campaign strategies. They have this kind of opinion because education teaches them about these kinds of things. But for some middle class and most in the lower class (who cannot afford to have a higher education), they accepted vote buying because they perceive it as the time when they can receive “free” money that they can use to buy their necessities.


Hicken (2006, p. 48), stated that “the rules and institutions under which candidates must operate can influence their incentives to purchase electoral support.” Different institutional factors may encourage or discourage the use of vote buying.

One institutional factor is the electoral system itself (Hicken, 2006). Under this factor is the district magnitude. It affects the strategy of the candidate because large constituency means larger amount of money needed to buy votes. Large district also has influence on the manner of distribution of the money. The strategy will be more expensive and costly since the distribution of money will take much longer and there should be an increase in the number of employees to properly accomplish the strategy. As a result, candidates will lessen the amount of money to be distributed to the people in order to prioritize other campaign strategies.


Political factors are different conditions and circumstances in society that affect the creation of various policies political choices.

One of the variables under this factor is the election laws, particularly the anti-vote buying laws (Hicken, 2006). The degree of execution of different anti-vote buying laws affect how candidates device their strategy and distribution plans. In the Philippines, vote buying is illegal yet it continues to occur probably because of inefficiency of the laws and the law enforcers and the light punishments that will be given to the law breaker. There is no strict regulation of such laws in our country that is why the practice of vote buying is still a widespread act. More often than not, the law enforcers themselves are the protector of this scheme.


The first thing that comes into our minds when we talk about vote buying is money. Money is the vital element of vote buying. It is the foundation of any vote buying scheme. We usually think that all vote buying funds are coming from the pockets of the candidates since most of them are members of the elite. But I think that the candidates are smart enough not to make use of their own wealth and to think of other alternative ways of budget sources.

Some candidates most likely get their vote buying budget from their own political parties. Others accept donations from different business sectors given the condition that if they win the elections, they will repay them by giving them economic benefits and government protection. For example, the candidate accepted the donation from a construction company. If the candidate won the elections and plans to carry out road projects, he or she will be obliged to make the company the contractor of the said projects.

Other candidates resort in getting illegal funds. Candidates who seek re-election have the advantage when it comes to money resources because they can easily tap pork barrel and other government funds. Some ask the help of drug syndicates, smugglers, kidnappers, gamblers and robbers to provide them with untraceable funds. It is true because we can observe that many crimes and illegal acts are happening during the election season. In return, the candidates give them financial support and protection.


A carefully devised plan of action is needed to successfully carry out acts, especially if it is illegal. Candidates and politicians are wise in strategizing the effective way to buy the votes of the people. Usually, they even hire experts and professionals who are knowledgeable in fields concerning illegal campaign scheming.

One specific strategy to ensure that the money given was translated into vote is what Bionat (1998) called Lanzadera system. In this strategy, the watchers give the voters an already completed ballot which will be dropped by the voters in the ballot box. After dropping the already completed ballot, the voter, then, takes with him or her the blank ballot and give it to the watcher. The watcher will complete that ballot and give it to the next paid voter. In this system, the money is given only if the voter returns with a blank ballot.

I interviewed people from our barangay in Bulakan, Bulacan about the chronic vote buying in our place. They had first hand experiences on how vote buying takes place in our town. Based from that interview, I was able to learn other strategies and series of actions on how the scheme of vote buying happens.

According to them, vote buying is usually conducted a night or two before the election day, usually around eight in the evening until midnight. Each politician has their own “leader” per community who is responsible for the identification of supporters and potential vote buying targets. They are also responsible in delivering the money to the house of the identified voters, at times in the appearance of paying the “watcher”. The intense vote buying is very evident and common in our place that the people are the ones coming and lining up in front of the politicians’ headquarters to ask for the money.

Another strategy done by the candidates is getting the trust of barangay officials and other community leaders. In this way, the candidate can almost assume his or her hold in the community. The local leaders, then, are given large amount of money in exchange of buying the votes of their constituencies on behalf of the politician or the candidate.

One more strategy that was mentioned by my neighbors is buying non-supporters. Candidates will offer those non-supporters with huge amount money. If they accept it, they will not be allowed to come out of their houses on the day of the election. There will be someone who will serve as a watchman that will ensure that the voter will abide to the agreement. Some politicians, in order to be extra sure, hire a bus that will take all the paid non-supporters to an out-of-town trip on the election day.

Another strategy is the taking advantage of the politicians on our deep family and kinship ties. Some politicians use a relative or an influential member of a clan to convince members of the family and close friends to accept the money and to vote for that politician.

Vote buying also happens during the election day itself as said by the interviewees. Buying may take the form of 100 pesos attached to the sample ballot.

There are also ways in order to ensure that the paid voter will comply with the agreement. Before giving the money, they are required to give proofs that they voted that candidate. Usually, they bring with them a carbon paper or they are asked to take a picture of the ballot with a cell phone camera. Others asked the voters to make an agreed mark (a particular fold for example) on the ballot to serve as identification in the course of the counting of the votes.


The primary reason why politicians buy votes is the hunger for power. Vote buying is a form of desperation to remain in power. Many politicians fight for the privilege of power because it implies influence and control over other individuals. They see power as the easiest way to achieve fame and fortune. Candidates want to purchase the vote of the people to obtain domination on different public organizations and mechanisms. They are not afraid to spend a big amount of money because once they are elected in office; they can easily recover the money that was used to pay those individuals.


According to the April 2007 of the Social Weather Station (SWS), one in two of the registered voters think that there is nothing bad in accepting the money offers from the candidates (refer to Figure 1). Others may not see this from of money-giving as an attempt to buy their votes. They accept the money but it does not necessarily mean that they will vote for that candidate.

Another reason is the offer seems as an opportunity to get the money, which was stolen by the politicians, back to the people. They might as well accept the offered money since it came from the taxes of the people.

The April 2007 SWS survey also found that those in the rural areas were more probable in accepting money compared to those who live in urban areas (refer to Table 1). This shows that the primary reason for the selling of votes is poverty. Those who live in or below the poverty line mostly are unemployed individuals. They take the money because they needed it. For the poor, payment for a vote can mean a week without hunger. They just accept the offer because for them, dignity and pride cannot create food and money.

Some may see elections as the only chance to obtain something from the government. They have this view that it is an obligation of a candidate to give money and other material things to their supporters.

There are some reasons that we can consider negative in the part of the voters. People accept payments because they are being threatened. Most of the times, material offers are accompanied with terror, making them very difficult to refuse.

Figure 1. “In an election, it is not bad to accept money provided

one votes according to one’s conscience.”


Table 1. Rural areas approved accepting money compared to those in

the urban areas.



For the past few years, many have attempted to stop and eliminate the practice of vote buying in the Philippines. They even formed different organizations that promote the values of an honest election. But none of them actually succeeded.

The effectiveness of efforts depends on how organizers or developers predicted the intensity of vote buying strategies as well as the various reasons why people accept the offers.

A reform aims to change the behavior of the candidates and the voters. Reforms for givers usually take the form of strengthened laws. Example includes strengthened vote secrecy, tightened campaign finance rules and many others that aim to prevent anyone from buying votes. But these reforms led only to a limited success. Vote buyers, instead of stopping, have adapt themselves to the new environment. To escape punishments, they devised new ways on how to carry out vote buying like increasing the instances of indirect vote buying rather than direct vote buying. It became more uncontrollable even though new laws strained it to become more subtle.

On the other hand, reform has always taken the form of voter education. Probably the most successful technique that was done to eradicate vote buying is the campaign against vote buying through different public service posters (see Illustration 1, Illustration 2 and Illustration 3). Successful in the sense that it enables the public to gain information about the wrongness of vote buying. But it did not really help in the removal of this unacceptable practice.

None of the attempts to completely stop vote buying became successful. Law enforcers and reformists continue to devise stricter policies and laws against vote buying despite the fact that none of these actually really worked. Instead of wasting the time in just making stricter policies, they should consider focusing their attention on real roots of this act. Government should focus their attention more on improving economic development and education. By doing so, people will not have the reason to accept money in exchange of their votes.

At this point in time, I can say that reform is really impossible. Reform will only be possible once our political and economic system become stable.

Illustration 2: 3M public service ad, May 2001. blinded by money. Vote with your conscience.”

Source: Schaffer, 2005

Illustration 1: Namfrel Public Service Ad, May 2001. “Your vote is valuable, it doesn’t have a price. Your character is priceless. So, in this election, don’t sell your character, don’t sell you vote.

Source: Schaffer, 2005

Illustration 3: Red Horse Beer public service ad, May 2001. “A little pocket change won’t put you ahead. Don’t ask for a bribe. Vote for a good candidate.”

Source: Schaffer, 2005


Vote buying is not just a recent development in Philippine elections. Its existence started with the coming of foreign colonizers and continued to flourish and evolve with the advancement of new technologies and the development of new ideas.

Pre-colonial elections in the Philippines did not have vote buying because the leadership was assumed not through election but through succession. The same thing goes probably with the elections during the early Spanish period (17th to 18th century). I did not find any account stating that there was vote buying but I assume that there was none because there was no elections and the leaders were only appointed by the Spaniards. In the late Spanish period (19th century), Spanish colonial control in the Philippines declined as the Philippine revolution started. The revolution led to the development of a government established by Aguinaldo. Under this government, most officials were selected individuals from the principalia class and elections were only held for higher positions. There was no large scale elections during that time so vote buying was not an option.

The coming of the American period started vote buying in the Philippines. The Americans gave all Filipinos the right to rule and the right to vote. Act No. 60, which became the organic law for all municipal governments, started the elite rule in the Philippines (Tangcangco, 1988). The Act provided a requirement that only allowed the elites to vote and participate in elections. The elites became powerful and they may have realized the advantage that the position can give them. They became accustomed to the power that was once denied by the Spaniards. From then on, in order to sustain this power, they did whatever means and costs to be elected in office.

Here are some of the documented instances of vote buying from the American period until the present period.

In the 1929 Elections (during the American period), money was very essential in the campaign period. Money was used to pay-off rivals to withdraw their candidacy, to buy the votes of the people, to threaten the people, and to bribe campaign leaders of the rival candidate. (Banlaoi & Carlos, 1996).

In 1940 Local elections (Commonwealth period), Money was again a very important tool. Specific example for this one is the case of Pedro Abad Santos of the Socialist Party. He was predicted as the winner of the gubernatorial race in the province of Pampanga because of his massive popularity to his constituents but his wealthy opponent won the election by almost 7000 votes. There was no evidence of the strategies his opponent had used but the Abad Santos’ camp was really sure that his opponent used his money to buy the votes of the people. Another example was the electoral protest of Dr. Hilario Moncado against Tomas Cabili. They were fighting for a congressional seat in Lanoa province. Moncado accused Cabili of unlawful campaign by promising free legal services and employment for those who will vote for him. (Banlaoi & Carlos, 1996)

In the 1949 National Elections (during the post-independence period), all forms of fraud and manipulation were reportedly done by President Elpidio Quirino to ensure his position as president. Quirino and his other candidates used massive and whole-sale vote-buying in forms of money, jobs and pork barrel. It was reported that Quirino had used almost four million pesos during his election campaign. The three provinces where the massive vote buying occurred include Negros Occidental, Nueva Ecija and Lanao. (Banlaoi & Carlos, 1996)

The 1969 Presidential and Congressional Elections was between The Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party. This was considered as the “bloodiest and dirtiest election” (Banlaoi & Carlos, 1996, p.111) prior to the Martial law period. Both parties reportedly used different techniques to ensure their victory. These included cheating, ballot stuffing and massive vote buying. It was stated in the reports that the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party spent around 700 million pesos and 300 million pesos respectively. That money came from the pork-barrel funds and was used as media fees and in buying votes. (Banlaoi & Carlos, 1996).

During the Martial law period, all kinds of wholesale fraud were committed including vote buying. In order to capture the loyalty of the rural people, Marcos personally distributed 4000 pesos to every barrio captain during his campaign. The barrio captains were tasked to divide the money among the inhabitants of the barrio. (Abueva, 1970).

In the 1992 elections, there was a ban on media advertisements so the candidates had more cash to spend on their campaigns. Feliciano Belmonte, Quezon City congressional candidate at that time, was reported to have given cash and free tickets to Hongkong during his campaign. (Bionat, 1998)

The media advertisement was also banned in the 1995 elections. According to Bionat (1998), mayors in Cebu received a bonus of 50,000 to 100,000 pesos for campaigning the 12 senatorial bets of the administration. Like what Marcos did, candidates also bought the votes of the grassroots leader. The difference is that the value of their support was more expensive. Barangay captains accepted a minimum of 500 pesos and a maximum of 20,000 pesos from the candidates. (Bionat, 1998)

In the 2004 Presidential elections, Arroyo committed almost all kinds of fraud according to Tuazon (2006). One example is the Oplan Mercury that was exposed by Rudy Galang (one of the brains of this idea). The goals of this plan are to use public funds to the campaign, to provide money to local officials and to buy the support of those in the opposition. (Tuazon, 2006).

Elections in the Philippines from pre-colonial era to the present show how we incorporate influences of colonial rule into our political system. The good and bad effects of these interventions became part of the changes in Philippine elections. History tells us that the face of Philippine elections has never really changed. We still continue to perform the practices of the past. The difference now is that it just assumes new shape and form.


In a poor country like ours, it is impossible to have a power because our politicians know our vulnerability to pressure and our hardships in life. Majority of our electorate are poor and have no means of livelihood, no education to back them up and they just resign themselves to taking alms and relief. The poorer the country the more prevalent vote buying is. They take advantage of our weaknesses but we cannot blame those who sell their votes. Filipinos’ minds are set for any answers that are immediate. That is why even when the act is illegal and unlawful, like selling votes, they instantly resort to it to easily come up with a solution to their problem, like poverty. People are quite fixated on short term solutions instead of long term ones. A 500 peso bill can buy you, let’s say, a two days decent meal, but it cannot assure you economic stability in the future.

For me, vote buying can be associated with surrendering one’s right to vote and selling one’s principle. I will definitely not sell my vote. Vote buying is based on morality. Money is good by itself but the act is evil because it violates my freedom, my dignity and my right as an individual.

Vote buying is not a native Filipino idea. It was only a reflection of our colonial experience. But this experience manifest in us that it became a constant scenario in elections. History has an indirect effect on the start of vote buying in the Philippines. The desire for self-rule that was forbidden to the Filipinos for almost 300 years was suddenly bestowed to us that it might have created the idea of doing whatever it takes (may it be good or bad) to preserve and uphold this right.