Saturday, February 27, 2010

Villar: Kids can’t vote, so P20 is not vote-buying

By Nikko Dizon, Michael Lim Ubac
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:29:00 02/28/2010

Filed Under: Manny Villar, Politics, Eleksyon 2010, Elections

Original Story:

VILLASIS, PANGASINAN—THE KIDS were hungry and wanted to eat camote (a root crop). Is that vote-buying?

This was the retort of Sen. Manuel Villar, standard-bearer of the Nacionalista Party (NP), to critics assailing his P20 handout to young children at a market while on a campaign sortie in Batangas City on Friday.

“First of all, what’s wrong with giving [money] to children? They cannot vote. That’s not vote-buying. And that was money for them to buy camote,” Villar told reporters in Filipino following the induction Saturday of a local women’s group at the packed public gym in Villasis.

“Even children who are fed only camote are dragged into intrigues. They’re pitiful. And it’s not said anywhere that eating camote during a campaign is prohibited,” he said.

(If the senator appears hung up on the root crop, it’s probably because boiled camote is his favorite snack, as the Inquirer has learned from his Senate staff and younger brother.)

Villar also said the distribution of scholarships to children during his “Rockatropa” concert at the SM Mall of Asia grounds on Thursday night was “ceremonial.”

He said the scholarships were given earlier on “Wowowee,” the TV noontime show hosted by his supporter, Willie Revillame, “before the filing of the CoCs (certificates of candidacies).”

Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento warned on Friday that if a complaint is filed against him, Villar could face charges of vote-buying for handing out the scholarships at the concert.

“Under Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code, the prohibited acts include giving money or anything of value to favor one candidate. It’s called vote-buying,” Sarmiento told reporters.

“This applies to everyone,” he said, adding that vote-buying could involve just about “anything,” including scholarships.

Sarmiento, however, said a complaint needed to be filed at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before it could open an investigation.

42 children

On the phone Saturday with the Inquirer in Manila, NP spokesperson and senatorial candidate Gilbert Remulla said it was not scholarships but “one-time financial assistance” that Villar had given out.

Remulla said there were a number of reasons why the “financial assistance” given to 42 urban poor children during the rock concert organized by Villar’s daughter Camille on Thursday night did not constitute vote-buying.

“It happened last January. [Villar] was there at ‘Wowowee’ and 42 out-of-school youths were presented by Willie, who then asked the senator to sponsor them,” Remulla said.

Villar quickly granted the request and shelled out P3 million, according to Remulla.

“So each of the kids was given about P71,000,” he said, adding that the amount would cover tuition and other school expenses for a schoolyear. (The exact amount is P71,428.57.)

Precisely to avoid being accused of using the assistance for campaign purposes, Villar was careful not to go up the stage, Remulla said.

Camille Villar took her father’s place, and was embraced by the children when she showed up on stage with Revillame, the main host of the concert.

“So [the distribution of financial assistance] was merely ceremonial in nature because [the actual donation] happened before the campaign season,” Remulla said.

Up to Comelec

Villar can rest assured that the party of his closest rival for the presidency will not initiate a disqualification case against him for distributing scholarships.

In a press conference yesterday at the general aviation office of the Mactan Cebu International Airport, the Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer, Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, said he was leaving the matter up to the Comelec.

Aquino said that while one could view the distribution of scholarships as a form of vote-buying, the LP was not planning to file a complaint against Villar.

“The Comelec itself made the comment on that,” Aquino said. “I am not a lawyer and I cannot give advice to my rival. He has competent legal minds to assist him.”

Aquino said he had instructed his staff to put up a clear division between his campaign and his public duties as a senator in order to avoid charges of vote-buying. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.

Original Story:

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