Comelec to probe forced LP rally attendance

The Commission on Elections and the Commission on Human Rights will investigate reports that government

officials are forcing dole recipients to attend political rallies in favor of administration candidate for president Manuel Roxas II.

Opposition candidate for president Vice President Jejomar Binay tagged Social Welfare Secretary Corazon Soliman as being behind the coercion of beneficiaries under the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or 4Ps, a multi-billion-peso dole program. But Gabriela party-list Rep. Emmi de Jesus named President Benigno Aquino III, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mel Senen Sarmiento as the culprits behind the use of government funds to promote the Roxas campaign.

Binay, the standard bearer of the United Nationalist Alliance, said members of the 4Ps were being used much in the same way they were in the 2013 mid-term elections.

De Jesus added that Soliman was threatening to cut monthly stipends by P500 for those who did not go to the pro-Roxas rallies.

Gabriela, she added, had gathered reports showing the practice was evident in Cebu, Bacolod, Pikit in North Cotabato and in Metro Manila.

Membership in the 4Ps has swollen to 4 million households on a budget of P65 billion.

"Dinky Soliman did the same thing in 2013," Binay said.

De Jesus added: "Like President Aquino, Soliman has also been joining Daang Matuwid sorties, at the expense of DSWD's 4Ps operational budget. Women reported they were forced to attend Liberal Party town hall meetings in Cebu, where Soliman specifically named Gabriela and Bayan Muna as candidates that should be voted out for opposing the conditional cash transfer also known as the 4Ps," De Jesus said.

"Together with Sarmiento and Abad, Soliman was also sighted in Bacolod City last week, ostensibly to gather CCT program beneficiaries and promote its budget-drafting tool Bottom Up Budgeting," De Jesus said.

But De Jesus questioned the handing out of P15 million to 15 municipalities.

"Aquino's party mates have been caught in the last elections for using 4Ps enlistment events as sorties funded by the CCT budget, and in one case sample ballots were found stapled to application forms. Mar Roxas is without shame in the conduct of his campaign and deserves outright rejection on May 9," said Bai Ali Indayla, Gabriela Mindanao spokesperson and third nominee.

Some 4Ps members said the rally organizers and DSWD were checking their attendance to make sure they complied with the directive.

The most recent complaint was raised by the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan that said the 4Ps recipients were told to attend Roxas' political rallies in Luneta and Quezon Memorial Circle last week.

Soliman denied using the 4Ps members for political purposes.

The CHR's Bantay Karapatan sa Halalan said it has started investigating reports of "abuse of government resources and partisanship of civil service employees, lack of information to the electorate, and vote buying."

The BKH said it was investigating in particular reports that "incumbent officials are using the 4Ps to force voters to attend political rallies."

The CHR said its regional offices have started a probe on reported incidents of different violations of election laws.

The initiative, which is a partnership among the CHR, Comelec and other human rights groups, aims to monitor cases of human rights abuses during the election.

Rona Ann Caritos, executive director of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), said CHR investigators are gathering enough information for the possible filing of cases against officials.

"[We hope that] within the next few weeks or after the elections, there will be cases filed against these violators," she said.

Aside from the election-related offenses, the CHR added that administrative cases may also be filed before the Civil Service Commission.

Max de Mesa, national coordinator of Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, reminded officials that use of government resources is considered a form of electioneering and may result in penalties.

He called on the public to be vigilant and report such illegal practices to proper investigating bodies such as the BKH.

De Mesa said 4Ps beneficiaries should not be coerced into joining political rallies under threat that their benefits would be removed or that they would be delisted.

The BKH also reminded voters not to be swayed by the promise of money in exchange for their votes amid rampant reports of vote buying in different parts of the country.

Indayla lambasted the Roxas campaign sortie in Pikit, North Cotabato, where a video now going viral exposed how 4Ps beneficiaries were being rehearsed to cheer enthusiastically for the expected arrival of Roxas.

The emcee threatened to withhold cash envelopes if the crowd failed to deliver a robust cheer.

The Pikit rally happened a few days before the deadly dispersal by police and soldiers of starving farmers in nearby Kidapawan City, Indayla said.

"In their desperation, Mar Roxas and his team have gotten so brazen in their dirty tricks. Their campaign smacks of impunity and obscene entitlement that the ruling Team Daang Matuwid feels are its privileges."

An official from the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines expressed alarm over reports of the delayed release of government funds that would help ease the burden of farmers suffering from the ill effects of the El NiAo phenomenon.

"What is taking them long from releasing these available funds? We have already seen enough bloodshed in Kidapawan which [was the result of] government inaction," said the executive secretary of the National Secretariat for Social Action / Caritas Philippines, Edwin Gariguez.

"Time is of the essence here. The government needs to act now and disburse the funds intended for the farmers, who have suffered enough. Loss of livelihood means hunger for our people who are already living in poverty to start with," Gariguez said.

Roxas on Tuesday said the Comelec should exempt local government units affected by the dry spell in Mindanao from the election-period ban on the release and disbursement of public funds.

Source: The Standard