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SC speedily removes electoral roadblocks

With commendable alacrity and speed, the Supreme Court resolved two crucial electoral roadblocks that threatened to upset the preparations for the presidential polls next year.

Deadline for registration. First, on Dec. 8, it junked the petition of the Kabataan Party-list (and others) challenging two resolutions of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that fixed the deadline for filing applications for registration of voters on Oct. 31, 2015.

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Second, on Dec. 16, it trashed a petition also of Kabataan Party-list et al. questioning the “No Bio-No Boto” policy of the poll watchdog. It likewise lifted the temporary restraining order it earlier issued thereon.

Whether we agree with the two decisions or not, our people, I think, should applaud the speed and diligence with which the tribunal acted, and should encourage it to act with similar dispatch on all election-related matters.

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In the first case, the petitioners contended that the last day fixed by the Comelec for filing applications for registration, Oct. 31, 2015, is more than two months earlier than what the Voters Registration Law (Republic Act No. 8189) provides. Consequently, the Comelec effectively disenfranchised 2.4 million voters who failed to register.

After receiving the petition, the Court ordered the Comelec to file a comment, which the poll body did last Dec. 7. Voila, the next day, Dec. 8, the Court very promptly issued its unanimous three-page resolution dismissing the petition. It held that the

Voters Registration Law, upon which the petition is anchored, merely stated that “[n]o registration shall, however, be conducted during the period starting 120 days before a regular election…”

It explained that “what the Voters Registration Act merely provides is that registration shall no longer be allowed during the period of 120 days before a regular election or, in this case, beyond Jan. 8, 2016. It does not, however, mandate the period for registration should be up to such time.”

Filipino restatement. Anent the second case, the Comelec policy or slogan called “No Bio-No Boto” is a short, catchy Filipino restatement of the provision of the Mandatory Biometrics Registration Law of 2013 (RA 10367) stating that voters who fail to have their biometrics validated on or before the last day for registration shall be deactivated and not allowed to vote in the elections on May 9, 2016.

The Comelec explained that the public information campaign for this policy coincided with the period for continuing voter registrations, which is the subject of the first case. This campaign started in May 2014 and lasted up to Oct. 31, 2015. During those 18 months, registered voters were reminded to update and validate their biometric records; otherwise, they would not be able to vote.

The Court agreed with the Comelec that voters had been given sufficient notice of the “No Bio-No Boto” policy. Contrary to the petitioners’ contention that the policy imposes an unconstitutional burden that practically nullifies the citizens’ right to vote, the Court, through Justice Estela M. Perlas-Bernabe, explained—and I agree—that a distinction should be made between the voters’ “qualifications” and their “registration.”

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Registration is merely a preparatory step toward voting and “is not one of the elements that make the citizen a qualified voter.” On the other hand, the biometrics data requirement rids the voters’ list of “ghost” and “flying” voters.

Comelec timetable. While I initially sympathized with the petitioners’ desire to prevent the disenfranchisement of 2.4 million voters who failed to meet the Oct. 31 deadline, I had to consider, too, that such extension would imperil the Comelec’s meticulously planned preparations for the 2016 automated elections, and might result in electoral chaos. These preparations include:

(1) The completion of the “Project of Precincts” (POP) which contains the data on the distribution of the 54.5 million registered voters to the 373,786 established precincts and 94,000 clustered precincts in 42,029 barangays, 1,490 municipalities, 144 cities and 81 provinces, together with the names and locations of the polling centers where the established and clustered precincts are assigned.

(2) The POP data is used by the Comelec to determine, among others, (a) the number of boards of election inspectors, (b) the allocation of the forms and supplies to be procured for use on Election Day, (c) the number of vote-counting machines and other peripherals to be deployed, and (d) the budget needed.

(3) This data will also be used in finalizing the templates of the ballots for the 18,083 elective positions at stake, with at least 45,800 candidates vying for them. Note that in our automated system of elections, the ballots are “precinct-specific” because the local candidates in each town or legislative district are different from those in every other town or district.

(4) There would be 1,953 ballot faces to be posted at the Comelec website which, prior to final printing, would have to be counterchecked by the candidates themselves to verify whether their names have been correctly placed in the voting areas in which they are running.

The foregoing are only some of the grimy details that could not be done properly if the deadlines for the registration applications and biometrics data-taking are relaxed. Rather than risk a chaotic poll and to ensure a credible and orderly election come May 9, 2016, I believe it is much better to abide by and to uphold the Comelec’s timetable.

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TAGS: Comelec, Elections 2016, kabataan party-list, No Bio-No Boto, Supreme Court, voter registration
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