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Two seconds to pick the next president

 

 

 

 

 

COMMONSENSE

Before we did our country’s maiden foray using the automated voting system during the May 2010 presidential elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) did a lot of mock polls, including time-and-motion studies. This was to ensure and anticipate any possible problems that could derail our country’s first-ever automated election system (AES). There were still a number of problems that cropped up despite all these massive preparations as we shifted out of previous years of old election system that was more prone to fraud and cheating.

The Comelec will be holding again the next presidential elections on May 9 this year. Although using basically the same AES technology, the Comelec will be holding this time the upcoming elections under very different situations all over the country. This will be the first time Filipinos will cast their votes while we are still reeling from the dreaded coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Among other new rules and regulations, the Comelec have also started implementing social distancing and other anti-COVID related minimum health protocols with the start of the official campaign period last Feb.8. These new rules and regulations were all spelled out in the Comelec Resolution Nos. 10730 and 10732 that veteran election lawyers led by Romulo “Romy” Macalintal and George Garcia will jointly question before the Comelec en banc. Macalintal and Garcia asserted the poll body allegedly stepped beyond its authority in imposing these new guidelines that do not stand on legal nor constitutional grounds.

Together as guests in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay virtual news forum last Wednesday, former Comelec commissioner Gregorio “Goyo” Larrazabal promised to draft their joint letter to formally request the Comelec “to re-visit, re-examine, review” the questioned COVID-related rules and regulations that could not be justified even under existing provisions of the country’s Omnibus Election Code.

In particular, they pertained to the two controversial Comelec’s Resolutions, in which among the “do’s and don’t’s,” required candidates to secure a permit from the Comelec Campaign Committee (CCC) before getting a mayor’s permit for their campaign activities. Under the same Resolutions, candidates are also prohibited from shaking hands, hugging, kissing, going arm-in-arm and even taking selfies with their supporters under pain of punishment.

Under these new Comelec guidelines, voters are required to wear face masks and face shields before being allowed to enter the polling precincts. Moreover, special polling booths will be set up for senior citizens and persons with disabilities that Macalintal fears might violate the secrecy of the ballots in bringing the filled ballots to and fro their precincts.

When he guested in our Kapihan sa Manila Bay last Jan. 26, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez justified the stricter guidelines were meant to ensure the safety of both the candidates and the public as the country continues to suffer with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a press conference held also last Wednesday, “acting” Comelec chairperson Socorro Inting sought to assuage the public concerns on these two Resolutions. Even if President Duterte has yet to appoint who will fill the three vacancies in the Comelec, Inting promised that she and three incumbent commissioners of the poll body would discuss the issues and concerns raised on the two Resolutions.

The three election lawyers, however, warned the COVID-related guidelines of the Comelec could cause a lot of problems not just to the poll body but for the entire Filipino voters on election day. Regarded as legal experts on Philippine election laws, Macalintal, Garcia and Larrazabal expressed concern certain COVID-related rules and regulations of the Comelec could seriously impinge upon the voting process of the national and local elections.

Worse, they rued, these Comelec guidelines would directly affect those who choose to exercise their rights of suffrage amid the risks of COVID-19 infection. They all believed these guidelines were obviously not based on practical realities on the ground.

Per Comelec figures, there are currently 65.7 million registered Filipino voters nationwide.

Garcia expressed “serious doubts” on the legality of certain provisions of the two Comelec Resolutions. He noted in fact, there is no specific provision under the Omnibus Election Code that would punish those who violate the poll body’s anti-COVID campaign guidelines.

The first to ring the alarm bells was Macalintal who last week issued a press statement that questioned the Comelec’s authority to issue a permit for candidates who wish to hold campaign activities. Macalintal pointed out the poll body has no jurisdiction over health protocols against COVID-19. It is the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management against Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), he cited, as the government body in charge of imposing the COVID-19 protocols all over the country.

Then in-charge of the poll body’s information technology committee, Larrazabal recalled undertaking a lot of mock polls and time-and-motion studies before coming out with the implementing rules and regulations of the AES.

As one of the seven-man commissioners then at the Comelec, Larrazabal was tasked to ensure the modernization program of the poll body would succeed. For example, Larrazabal clearly recalled, it took only two seconds to blot the oval shape figure before each name of the candidates in the ballot.

“That two seconds to shade the oval will be determine where we will go in the next three years and six years,” Larrazabal pointed out, alluding to his own bid as candidate running for the 4th congressional district in Leyte. “So value that (two seconds) and value the life and future of your family and children. So please let us all vote wisely,” Larrazabal exhorted.

In unison, the three election lawyers appealed to Comelec to go over again on their COVID-related guidelines to protect the democratic process of elections in our country. — Marichu A. Villanueva

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