The Commission on Elections on Saturday said it is one with the government in ensuring the peaceful conduct of next year’s elections, but stressed it has the sole authority to call on the military to address any threat to the 2022 polls.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez issued the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday warned he is ready to “use the might of the military” to ensure a peaceful and violence-free elections next year.
“The Comelec shares the President’s sentiment and would like to reassure the public that it works very closely with both the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to ensure that the elections are free of violence,” Jimenez said in a statement.
“[But] it should also be noted that in those instances where violent incidents threaten the integrity of the elections, the poll body has the authority to take such steps as may be necessary to address the situation, including but not limited to the imposition of Comelec control on specific parts of the country,” Jimenez added.
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, for his part, said it is not within the powers of the President to deputize the military during an election period.
“The President has no such power during an election period. That power is vested under Comelec. Section 52 of the Omnibus Election Code is very clear: Only the Comelec can deputize the Armed Forces of the Philippines in case of terrorism that can affect the conduct of free and honest elections,” Macalintal said in a television interview Saturday.
“That power is not with the President but with the Comelec,” he added.
Asked if a declaration of Martial Law would allow the President to invoke such power, Macalintal said such a declaration would “make it a different story.”
On Friday, the President appealed to the public to “stick to the rule of law and avoid violence.
“Either that we have an election that is free or I will use the military to see to it that the election is free [from any violence].
The military is the guardian of our country and I could call them anytime to see to it that people are protected and elections are freely and orderly exercised,” the commander-in-chief said.
Meanwhile, Jimenez said Comelec can accommodate more than 200,000 new voters should the poll body decide to extend the voter registration by one week.
He said the Comelec en banc is set to meet next week to come up with a decision on proposals to extend the voter registration period which will end on September 30.
The Comelec said more than 60 million Filipinos are eligible to vote in the coming 2022 May national elections.
However, according to senator Francisco Pangilinan, citing the Philippine Statistics Authority, the number of qualified voters for the 2022 elections is 73 million, which means 15 million qualified voters are not yet registered.
“Right now, our expectation is we are probably going to get less than 200,000 more who have not registered yet,” Jimenez said.
For his part, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco urged Comelec to exert all efforts to ensure that every eligible Filipino can vote in next year’s elections.
Velasco made the call after the House of Representatives passed on second reading a bill extending the deadline for voter registration.
“The right to vote in an election is one essential part of the democratic process, and the Comelec is duty-bound to make sure that all eligible voters are able to register and exercise their right of suffrage,” he said.