In the next few weeks, we will be witnessing the Philippines as it holds one of the largest elections in Asia with record-breaking registered voters of sixty-seven (67) million for the year 2022. A combination of eighteen thousand one hundred (18,100) positions is to be elected, from the president and vice president down to city board member positions. The upcoming election is anticipated to be one of the most fiercely contested votes in recent Philippine history. Political analysts and observers foresee the elections as a plebiscite on President Rodrigo Duterte which is a choice of either continuing his leadership style of governance and power or moving towards a more democratic government. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is the primary government agency charged by the constitution with enforcing and administering all laws and regulations governing regular and special elections that guide voters. It is a body that is constitutionally separate from the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government to guarantee free, fair, and honest elections. In addition, the constitution grants financial autonomy to the COMELEC, allowing it to operate effectively, efficiently, and independently of political interference. Furthermore, the constitution orders that “funds certified by the Commission as necessary to defray the expenses for holding regular and special elections, plebiscites, initiatives, referenda, and recalls, will be provided in the regular or special appropriations and, once approved, will be released automatically upon certification by the Chairman of the Commission.”
On top of its primary responsibility to guide voters and administer elections, the COMELEC also has judicial, regulatory, and administrative duties. Its judicial mandate includes exclusive original jurisdiction over all contests involving elections, returns, and qualifications of all elective regional, provincial, and city officials, as well as appellate jurisdiction over all contests involving elective municipal officials, decided by trial courts of general jurisdiction or elective barangay officials, decided by trial courts of limited jurisdiction. It has regulatory and administrative jurisdiction over all problems influencing elections, including the number and location of polling sites, the appointment of election officials and inspectors, and voter registration, except for issues regarding the right to vote.
Per the Republic Act No. 9369, an act amending republic act no. 8436, entitled “An act authorizing the commission on elections to use an automated election system in the May 11, 1998, national or local elections and in subsequent national and local electoral exercises, to encourage transparency, credibility, fairness, and accuracy of elections, amending for the purpose Batas Pambansa Bldg. 881, as amemded, republic act no. 7166 and other related elections laws, providing funds therefore and for other purposes”, the May 2022 National and Local Elections (NLE) will again be fully automated as it was with the May 2010 NLE, 2013 NLE, May 2016 NLE, and with the May 2019 NLE, beginning with:
- the counting of votes in the precincts;
- the consolidation of the precinct results;
- the transmission of precinct results to the corresponding city or municipality canvassing board;
- the canvassing of precinct results in the district, city, and municipal levels;
- the proclamation of winning candidates in the district, city, and municipal levels;
- the transmission of the district, city, municipal canvassing results to the provincial canvassing board, and the highly urbanized city results to the national canvassing board;
- the canvassing of city or municipal results at the provincial level;
- the proclamation of winning candidates at the provincial level;
- the transmission of the highly urbanized city and provincial results to the national canvassing board; and
- the canvassing of provincial and highly urbanized city results, including overseas results, at the national level.
National and local elections will be conducted on May 9 despite the scare of the COVID-19 pandemic. As mandated by Republic Act No. 7166 (in Section 2), which was approved into law on November 26, 1995, the next synchronized National and Local Elections (NLE) will happen on the second Monday of May, the 9th, in the year 2022. Millions of voters shall depart from the safety of their homes in 106,174 clustered precincts to cast ballots at 37,141 voting centers across the country. After witnessing the experience of other countries that held elections during the pandemic, the Philippines have adopted best practices that would make the national election safe and sound. Nevertheless, extra caution must still be observed to guarantee that we will not have a surge driven by the highly spreading variants of COVID19. COMELEC guide for voters is especially crucial during the new normal. While responsibly casting your votes is important, registered voters must also be wary and vigilant to ensure that they adhere to the basic health and safety measures.
As the national election approaches, observers and promoters for voter rights have encouraged COMELEC to begin its information campaign and dissemination as soon as possible to guide voters about what to anticipate on May 9. The two main recommendations for election managers, according to lawyer Helen Graido, policy consultant for elections during the COVID program at Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE), are to promote safe and well-ventilated venues and to provide additional personnel to handle the crowd of voters on election day. In addition to ensuring that the voting venues are safe and well-ventilated, it is important to take into consideration additional accommodations for vulnerable populations such as senior citizens and individuals with disabilities or comorbidities that place them at higher risk for COVID-19.
Based on previous announcements from COMELEC and apart from the Comelec’s 1,275-page “New Normal” guidebook, these are some of the things to expect on election day as a guide for voters:
Things to expect on election day as a guide for voters:
- There will be longer voting hours compared to the past election wherein only twelve (12) hours are allotted for the voting proper. This year COMELEC allocates thirteen (13) hours for the voting period.
- COVID-19 test and vaccination cards are no longer a requirement for registered voters.
- Strict observance of health and safety measures shall be implemented such as social distancing, hand sanitation before entry into the polling place, and wearing of face masks at all times. In addition, voters are recommended to always wear face shields unless they are in areas under alert levels 1 to 3, where the use of face shields is voluntary.
- There shall be separate rooms for voters with a body temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius and above. These individuals will be redirected to a so-called isolation polling place (IPP), where they can vote.
- There will be a designated place for the vulnerable population such as persons with disabilities, senior citizens, and heavily pregnant voters. They may opt to cast their ballots in Emergency Accessible Polling Places (EAPP) on election day. Nonetheless, they also have access to IPPs if they have a body temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius and above. The EAPP should also comply with anti-coronavirus protocols.
Furthermore, COMELEC is expected to introduce extensive health and safety protocols against coronavirus on voting day to guide voters. Voting will start at six o’clock in the morning (6:00 AM) and will end at seven o’clock at night (7:00 PM). To ensure the safety of all registered voters in the Philippines who will be casting their votes on May 9, here is a COMELEC guide for voters summarized in eight (8) simple steps.
COMELEC guide for voters summarized in eight (8) simple steps:
Step 1: Have your temperature checked before entering the voting center.
Step 2: Proceed to the Voters’ Assistance Desk (VAD) to secure your precinct and sequence numbers and assigned room or clustered precinct.
Step 3: Go to your assigned room and introduce yourself to the Electoral Board by stating your name, precinct, and sequence numbers.
Step 4: Get your ballot, ballot secrecy folder, and marking pen and fill out the ballot at the voting area.
Step 5: Accomplish the ballot by fully shading the oval appearing before the name of the candidate you wish to vote for. Do not overvote.
Step 6: Feed the ballot into the Vote Counting Machine (VCM).
Step 7: Check your voter’s receipt and then deposit it in the receptacle.
Step 8: Have your right forefinger nail stained with indelible ink.
The elections in 2022 will be a watershed point in Philippine history. The country’s leaders will be responsible for putting the country back on the road to recovery and stability. Our elected officials’ decisions and actions have a cascading influence on the lives of all Filipinos. Every vote matters, you matter. Vote wisely!
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Written by MC Sanchez