The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is considering holding a two-day voting period for the 2022 elections to help facilitate physical distancing in precincts.
Comelec officials were asked by lawmakers during its budget hearing on Thursday, September 24, how the poll body is preparing for the conduct of the next national elections amid the raging coronavirus pandemic.
President Rodrigo Duterte's successor will be chosen by the people in the 2022 elections.
Comelec Executive Director Bartolome Sinocruz Jr said they are preparing to hold the 2022 polls even if a COVID-19 vaccine is not readily available by then.
This includes possibly holding elections for two days to help control the number of voters trooping to their precincts to cast their votes.
"Insofar as Election Day, we're looking at the idea of holding the election not in just one day but two days. So para ma-regulate natin sir 'yung mga boboto (So we can regulate the flow of those who are going to vote). Some precincts will vote on the first day, some precincts will vote on the second day," Sinocruz said.
The same goes for the filing of certificates of candidacy (COCs) in 2021. Sinocruz said the Comelec may dedicate different days for the COC filing for specific positions, or even allow hopefuls to file their COCs online.
"There's no prohibition in the law for online filing... We also have to consider the connectivity in some areas. So we have to factor that in," Sinocruz said.
The Comelec, however, is asking lawmakers to increase their proposed P14.565-billion budget for 2021 so they could purchase more vote counting machines (VCMs) for the 2022 elections.
The Department of Budget and Management had slashed P16 billion from the original budget proposal submitted by the poll body for 2021.
Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said buying more VCMs is going to be part of their COVID-19 mitigation efforts, since they want to lessen the number of voters using the same VCM on Election Day.
"When we have a lot of voters and they are cramped together around one machine, that's not safe considering that we are in a pandemic right now. So one of the cornerstones of our efforts for 2022 is to make sure that the elections, the polling places are safe," Jimenez said in a mix of English and Filipino.
"And one of the cornerstones of that campaign is to make sure that there would be fewer people assigned per machine, which means we are going to need more machines than the ones that we have now," he added.
In the same hearing, however, Pampanga 2nd District Representative Mikey Arroyo suggested postponing the 2022 elections, arguing some constituents are already afraid to vote due to possible COVID-19 infection.
Comelec Chairperson Shariff Abas said the 1987 Constitution mandates presidential elections to be held every 6 years, but promised they would look into Arroyo's proposal.
COVID-19 cases are steadily rising in the Philippines, with infections now over 296,000. The Philippines currently has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Southeast Asia.
On Thursday, the Comelec also reminded the public that voter's registration is considered an "essential service."
This means even those who are below 21 years old and above 60 should be allowed to go to their respective Comelec offices to register.
"Ang order namin sa lahat ng field [offices], pa-register nila. 'Di puwedeng tanggihan, okay? Kapag nando'n na sila mismo sa office, hindi puwedeng pauuwiin pero i-accommodate na lahat 'yung mga senior citizen pati 'yung mga bata," Abas said.
(My order to the field offices is that they allow these age groups to register. They can't be refused. When they're in the office already, the senior citizens and the teenagers should be accommodated.)
Even under the most relaxed form of community quarantine, the elderly, children, pregnant women, and persons with certain health conditions are still prohibited from leaving their homes save for work or essential activities.
After almost 5 hours of interpellations, the House committee on appropriations terminated its budget hearing for Comelec, in effect approving the poll body's proposed 2021 budget.
Lawmakers can still increase Comelec's allocations once the entire 2021 budget is brought to the House plenary for debates and amendments by next week. – Rappler.com