A Pampanga lawmaker on Thursday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider postponing the May 2022 presidential elections, saying turnout might be low because people would be afraid to vote “due to possible exposure to COVID-19.”
The poll body told Congress it is looking into a possible two to three-day voting period to minimize the number of voters inside precincts.
“The plan is to hold elections on May 9, and then perhaps another two days if needed to continue the elections. It is as if we just extended the voting hours. But that’s still being studied by our law department,” said Comelec executive director Bartolome Sinocruz Jr.
Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, the son of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said during the budget hearing of the Comelec on Thursday that his constituents in the second district of Pampanga told him they would be afraid to vote in 2022 for fear of catching the coronavirus.
“I hope that thought will not linger in their minds,” he said.
But Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas reminded the congressman that the agency does not have a say on the holding of elections since these are mandated in the Constitution.
Abas added that such a proposal would have to be approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as the sitting President.
He added that the Comelec is looking at best practices in South Korea and the United States to keep the elections safe.
Sinocruz said the poll body was considering online filing of certificates of candidacies, with positions staggered on different days.
Sinocruz said extended voting hours has already been done for overseas absentee voting, which is held over a period of 30 days.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez, meanwhile, called on Congress to restore the budget that was cut from their original proposal so they could buy more voting machines so there would be fewer voters per machine.
“The problem is not just the age of the machine but also the number of people that will be using them,” Jimenez told legislators.
The Department of Budget and Management approved a P14.34 billion budget for the Comelec next year, down from the agency’s proposal of P14.57 billion.
Jimenez said the poll body is expecting that the number of voters will increase year-on-year. “Our list of voters is really increasing,” he said.
“When there are many voters crowding a machine, that’s somehow unsafe under our situation now that we are in a pandemic,” Jimenez said.
Also part of the Comelec preparations for the 2022 polls, Jimenez said, is to enforce election safety protocols against COVID-19 in case a vaccine remains unavailable by then.
He said the Comelec is also hoping Congress could pass pending bills that would allow voting by mail.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., meanwhile, tore into Arroyo’s proposal on his Twitter account, saying: “You don’t cancel elections for any reason. That’s treason.”
“We are a democracy or a s*** slave colony. Hold elections period. Those brave to stand in line & vote—even if only 12—decide the next President. Elections=democracy,” he said in an expletive-laden tweet.
Former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said there was no reason to postpone the elections, adding that a constitutional amendment would have to be ratified to extend the term of elected officials.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, meanwhile, said foreign troll factories should be stopped from polluting the 2022 elections.
“We should begin devising ways on how to detect and repel foreign interference in the 2022 polls,” he said.
“I don’t believe that candidates will be in cahoots with alien interests, and I know that as patriots they will not condone an intrusion even if it is meant for their benefit,” Recto added.
Recto’s remarks came after Facebook announced that it has shut down more than 100 fake accounts traced to police and military units that criticized the opposition, activism and communism.
Facebook said the domestic network consisted of about 57 Facebook accounts, 31 pages, and 20 Instagram accounts. The sites had more than 276,000 followers on Facebook and 55,000 on Instagram.
The network was most active since 2019 when discussions about the Anti-Terrorism Act were at their peak, Facebook added.