From the Philippine Daily Inquirer: ‘Bobotantes’ are thinking voters—Ateneo study


April 26, 2016


This article was originally published on the website of the Philippine Daily Inquirer,, last 25 April 2016 (…).

‘Bobotantes’ are thinking voters—Ateneo study
by Aries Joseph Hegina (

Are poor voters “bobotantes”? A study doesn’t think so.

Ateneo de Manila University’s Institute of Philippine Culture has conducted a study which zeroed in on the voting perceptions of  poor voters, particularly on the practice of vote buying and selling.

Presenting the preliminary results of their study, ADMU political science faculty member Lisandro E. Claudio, PhD, on Monday said that contrary to the popular belief that poor voters readily accept the money given to them in exchange for their votes, vote selling is a well thought-out process for the impoverished.

“The poor vote is a thinking vote and you see it everywhere—you see it on how they consider candidates, you see it in vote processes such as vote buying. While we can easily say that is evil, the poor think about it in different ways; there might even be a sense of justice in the way they sell their votes,” Claudio said.

“It’s not a simple immoral act that they don’t think about. It is a well thought-out process. The process of selling one’s vote is a reasoned and logical process.”

The study, which started in January, had four communities where a total of 119 key respondents were interviewed. Aside from conducting an in-depth ethnographic study, data from a national survey from Social Weather Stations were also used.

These four communities represent various kinds of poverty and are located in Quezon City, Camarines Sur, Tacloban City, and Zamboanga City.

Asked if giving money to voters constitutes buying or helping the people, an overwhelming percentage of respondents from conflict-stricken Zamboanga City and urban poor voters from Quezon City said that the act can be considered as vote buying,  according to 83.3 percent and 82.8 percent of respondents, respectively.

Those considered as rural poor voters from Camarines Sur are of the view that the act of giving them money is also a form of help to them.

When the respondents were asked if accepting money can be considered as selling their vote, those from Tacloban City and Camarines Sur said that it does not.

This is in contrast to those in Zamboanga who overwhelmingly said that accepting money from politicians is tantamount to selling one’s vote.

5 views among the poor on vote buying

The research showed that among the poor, there are five perspectives that prevail regarding vote buying. These perspectives are: vote buying as a “biyaya” or gift; vote buying as rightful money; vote buying as earned money; vote buying as accessible money; and vote buying as “dead” money.

Ateneo development studies program faculty member Jayeel Cornelio, PhD, said that some respondents look at the money given to them as a gift which can be used for their daily needs.

“People receive it as a blessing. If it comes from more than one source, then so be it,” Cornelio said.

As to the view that vote buying is “rightful money,” Cornelio said that some respondents take the money because they think that it is theirs from the beginning.

He explained that some respondents justified the act of getting the money from politicians because of the value added tax they pay when buying products.

“People are willing to receive from many sources but in the end, they want to exercise their agency or free will,” Cornelio said.

Ateneo’s Jose Jowel Canuday, PhD, explained that the respondents thought they earned the money because it was the result of a transaction between the vote buyer and the vote seller. The transaction, he noted, occurs in two stages: during voters’ registration and the actual voting.

Lastly, respondents can also look at vote buying as a means to get easy money—but with the caveat that they will still vote for their chosen candidate.

The study seeks to effect a shift in the discourse on how society views the voting attitudes of the poor.

“We are proposing a change of discourse in the way we talk about vote buying among the poor. It assumes that the poor don’t know what they are getting into or don’t know what they are doing when they engage in the act of vote buying when in fact, they do. So, if we are proposing anything, it’s more of a shift on how we talk about the poor and the phenomena of vote buying and selling,” Claudio said.

Research director Filomeno Aguilar, PhD, lamented the tag against poor voters as “bobotantes,” saying that such a moniker is an act of symbolic violence against the said sector.

“We must remember that the discourse we are grappling here is also a symbolic violence against the poor. There is symbolic violence when you begin to talk about the poor as all bobotantes, as all just giving in without us not understanding the particular circumstances in their respective communities. We have to be sensitive about that.

“We have to put ourselves in the shoes if we can of the very poor, in their different situations, and try to understand them before we make any generalizations,” Aguilar said.

The research, which utilized in-depth ethnographic interviews, will end in June or July 2016. JE