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Vote buying integral to electoral exercise Duterte says

MANILA (Agencies): On May 13, the day the Philippines went to polls for its mid-term elections, the president, Rodrigo Duterte, said vote buying is an “integral” part of the country’s electoral exercise. He excused it as just politicians paying the fare of local leaders who are helping ensure votes for them in a locality, according a May 16 report from UCAN
However, in the wake of allegations of vote buying and ballot-counting machine irregularities, during the country’s recent mid-term elections, Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of National Secretariat for Social Action (NSSA), the social action arm of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines,(CBCP) said, “We demand an independent and impartial investigation of the alleged fraud and manipulation of automated canvassing by the (Commission on Elections).”
In response to misreporting in local media, the head of the bishop’s conference, Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, stated on May 17 that Church leaders had not issued any call or made any demands.
“If that kind of news is circulating—that the CBCP has made such a call—that is again pure fake news,” the archbishop said in a statement.
Father Gariguez, who had expressed support for opposition candidates before the election, said his call had nothing to do with his political preferences.
Commission on Elections spokesperson, James Jimenez, called the allegations “100 per cent speculative.” 
However, Poll watchdog, Kontra Daya, claimed that this year’s elections were the “worst ever” due to numerous errors with vote-counting machines and “rampant vote buying.”
UCAN reported that professor Danilo Arao, convenor of the election watchdog, said election officials seemed not to regard voting “as a sacred process wherein even just one vote being miscounted should be a cause for concern.”
Arao accused the poll body of “downplaying” issues and complaints raised by some sectors. However, he, pointed out that the reasons why people sell their votes has to be understood. “We have to look at vote buying and vote selling within the context of poverty,” he said. 
Meanwhile, youth groups held what they called a Black Friday Protest on May 17 denouncing what they described was an “ongoing campaign to magically rig the elections in the administration’s favour.”
Sarah Elago of the group, Kabataan (youth), said they had received “a multitude of reports questioning the authenticity of the May 13 elections.”
Among the complaints were alleged partisan campaigning by police and military groups, errors and anomalies during the conduct of the elections, and a lack of transparency in the counting of votes, among others.
On May 22, CNN Philippines reported that the Commission on Elections had finally issued an official proclamation of the poll winners—after two postponements. The commission blamed the delays on a “bottleneck” caused by an avalanche of data from the regions hours after the conduct of the elections
However, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting called on the poll body to explain the delay amid calls to suspend the declaration of winners. 
The faith-based group, Philippine Misereor Partnership Inc, had earlier joined calls for an independent probe into technical glitches that marred the elections, fuelling suspicions of fraud.
“We will not rest until a proper investigation of these allegations of a fraudulent election and conspiracy is initiated,” a statement from the group read.
Myla Villanueva, chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, said, “The (council) will not stop” seeking the truth over what happened.
Asked on May 20 whether the Church-based watchdog detected fraud during the count, Villanueva said, “We matched all we matched. Please draw your own conclusions from that.”
Losing opposition candidates, condemned what they described as the “government’s rigging” of the elections and called streets protests.
“A strong feeling of dissatisfaction is currently felt by the nation as this government once again trampled upon our democratic rights,” read a statement from the so-called nationalist bloc.
It cited “massive reports of errors and malfunctions” of the automated elections system accompanied by widespread vote buying, and the use of government resources to favour administration candidates.
“Given all of these, the 2019 election results are far from credible and certainly tainted with fraud,” it added.
Meanwhile, CNN reported on May 15, that Duterte’s family looked set to consolidate its dynastic hold on Davao City, with incumbent mayor, Sara Duterte, the president’s daughter, being returned to office while her brother, Sebastian, won—unopposed—the vice mayorship. Older brother Paolo was headed for a seat in the House of Representatives.
The May 13 elections marked the fourth time the country has used automated balloting.

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