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Editorial

Insidious proposition

/ 05:07 AM September 30, 2020

The call made by Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo last Thursday to postpone the May 2022 elections because people in his district—“the businessmen, the old people” — allegedly have told him that they are “scared to vote during that day” should be denounced and rejected here and now, and at any other time it is ever brought up, as a hideous, insidious proposition patently offensive to the Constitution and the democratic ways — eroded enough as they are — of this country.

Arroyo was sly enough to phrase his bid as a harmless suggestion. “Just food for thought,” he called it. “The Comelec may choose to answer that or not.” Still, he couldn’t help himself, insisting and wheedling just a bit more: “But I hope that thought will linger in their minds. I’m not saying you should do it. Just consider it.”

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The former presidential son was aware that any hint that he was machinating to stay in power beyond the prescribed term was unsavory, and so he tried to have the Commission on Elections (Comelec), not Congress, bear the responsibility of making the radical decision to defer the polls. “Have you considered that proposal will at least come from you, and not from members of Congress? Because if it comes from us, then people might think we have motives to extend our term.”

Smooth. But yes, the public can see right through

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Arroyo’s manifestly self-serving exertions. How convenient to use the pandemic yet again to push for another anti-democratic measure, so soon after the anti-terrorism law. But this one takes the cake: nothing less than the prospect of depriving people the right to vote, which is an inalienable right guaranteed them by the Constitution.

That moment of reckoning before the voting public, when they have to make a case for and an accounting of themselves, is the price politicians have to pay at regular intervals to earn the privilege — and the pelf that goes with it — to be called leaders of this country. There is no justifiable reason to cancel wholesale that exercise and thereby strip the citizenry of the right, and the duty, to empower or vote out leaders as they see fit. That is the hallowed contract at the heart of the democratic project. As Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said in a tweet (the accompanying volley of curses this time commensurate to the odiousness of Arroyo’s suggestion): “You don’t cancel elections for any reason. That’s treason… Hold elections period. Those brave to stand in line & vote — even if only 12— d ecide the next President. Elections=democracy or F—ck U…”

Good thing the Comelec shot down Arroyo’s trial balloon outright. The poll body doesn’t see any need to defer the elections, said spokesperson James Jimenez. “Malinaw na malinaw ang mandato ng Comelec at iyan ay magpa-conduct ng election” (The Comelec’s mandate is very clear, and that is to hold elections).

The fear of overcrowding and lack of physical distancing during the campaign and voting periods is valid, given the still-uncapped number of COVID-19 cases in the country. In the absence of a vaccine, the pandemic may well linger up to 2022 and beyond. But as former Comelec commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal pointed out, some 40 countries have managed to hold elections successfully even with an epidemic in their midst, among them South Korea, Singapore, Iceland, and Russia. “If they can do it, why can’t we?” he asked.

As with its coronavirus response, South Korea’s recent parliamentary election has been held up as a model for how to conduct polls during a pandemic. “The system the South Koreans devised protects voters and poll workers,” reported The Washington Post. “First, polling places were disinfected and windows opened. Voters were instructed to stand at least three feet apart, with lines carefully marked on the floor. All voters had their temperature taken, and those with temperatures above 37.5 degrees Celsius (99.5 degrees Fahrenheit) were taken from the regular line and directed to separate booths. Those who passed the temperature check sanitized their hands, put on plastic gloves and cast their ballots. Voters discarded their plastic gloves on the way out…

“South Koreans employed two days of in-person early voting to help reduce election day lines. More than 11 million people—nearly 27 percent of registered voters and about 40 percent of the total turnout—took advantage of this opportunity… One might think all of this would discourage voting, but you would be wrong. More than 66 percent of eligible voters cast votes, the highest turnout in the past 20 years. Almost all of these millions of votes were cast in person, not by mail.”

Are similar safety measures impossible to implement here, such that the only way out would be to scrap the polls? Only to those whose chief interest is not safeguarding the people’s welfare or basic rights, but clinging to and overstaying in power the easy, illegal way.

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TAGS: 2022 elections, coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus philippines, COVID-19, Editorial, Mikey Arroyo, postponement of election
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