With less than eight months left before the September 30 deadline, the Senate can help the Commission on Elections craft guidelines for the conduct of the 2022 elections in COVID-19 pandemic time, Senator Francis Pangilinan said Friday.
In Senate Resolution 639, Pangilinan asked that the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People’s Participation conduct an inquiry into the slow progress of voters’ registration and the preparedness of Comelec to conduct the 2022 national and local elections during the pandemic.
“While elections are in May 2022, many of the preparations like the voters’ registration are already happening. Because choosing leaders through elections is integral to democracy, we need to know the problems Comelec is encountering now,” Pangilinan said.
In SR 639, Pangilinan pointed out the Comelec report was lagging behind its target of registering four million new voters.
He joined Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon in encouraging everyone, especially the youth, to register. He also called for deactivated voters to participate again in the coming 2022 elections.
Comelec deactivated around seven million voters due to non-participation in two consecutive elections. Out of the seven million voters, only around 700,000 individuals have reactivated their records at the Comelec.
Quarantine restrictions, limited transportation, and the public’s fear of the COVID-19 virus have been major factors in the slow and low turnout in voters’ registration.
The Comelec has been implementing measures on how to conduct the registration with the health and safety of the public as the priority.
As of February 3, 2021, Comelec said it only received about 1.3 million voter applications or only 32.5 percent of its target of four million new voters before the September 30, 2021deadline.
Earlier in the week, Malacañang meanwhile said it was still “too early” to discuss the proposal to ban face-to-face election campaigns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the government must first start the country’s vaccination program against COVID-19 and would decide based on the outcome of the inoculation program whether to ban the face-to-face elections campaign.
Comelec earlier raised the possibility of banning face-to-face campaigning for the May 2022 polls to control the spread of new COVID-19 cases.
The Palace official said the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) on Emerging Infectious Diseases, a policy-making body that provides recommendations to the President related to the pandemic, would also have a say on the matter.
Roque said the Palace respected the Comelec as a constitutional body tasked with the holding and supervision of elections but the issue would be discussed beyond Comelec and would also include the IATF.
Comelec commissioner Rowena Guanzon said face-to-face campaign activities for the upcoming 2022 elections may still be allowed but with strict health protocols rules.
But Comelec is looking to allow only five voters inside precincts at a time for next year’s elections in case the coronavirus pandemic persists.
In a television interview on Thursday, Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas said this aimed to control the number of people inside voting centers, in compliance with health protocols.
“Our initial plan is that at least five voters at one time will be allowed to vote and we are also planning to add some vote-counting machines. During the elections, there are many people inside schools. That is our biggest hurdle,” Abas said.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said they were looking at mail voting and online voting as an alternative option.
But he said these measures would need approval from Congress.
“Mail voting is a solution that is being proposed. In fact, there’s legislation pending for it but also other means of voting are being considered for instance absentee voting partly for senior citizens and PWDs (persons with disabilities). All of these are proceedings on the legislative front,” he said in a separate television interview.
At the same time, the Comelec official added they were also looking at allowing online campaigning.
“On the part of the Comelec, it is important to understand that yes we intend to open up online campaigning as a viable alternative to in-person campaigning. However, we are more concerned about establishing an even playing field so that everyone gets an opportunity to use online campaigning and online resources and are overwhelmed by candidates with more capability than others,” Jimenez added.
During elections, the campaign period for national positions starts 90 days before the scheduled polls while local candidates are given 45 days to campaign.