SC order threatens election schedule again

Paterno Esmaquel II
SC order threatens election schedule again
It’s a throwback to 2013, when the poll chief complained: ‘Parang sila na ang nagpapatakbo ng eleksyon. Akala ko ba kami?’

MANILA, Philippines – For the second time this year, an order from the Supreme Court (SC) is threatening the schedule for the May 2016 presidential elections. 

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Bautista on Sunday, December 6, said the poll body might have to postpone the elections because of a recent temporary restraining order (TRO) from the SC. 

The SC issued a TRO on December 1 against the Comelec’s “No Bio, No Boto” (No Biometrics, No Vote) policy. This TRO stopped the Comelec from deactivating the registration of 2.5 million voters who failed to have their biometrics taken for the 2016 elections.

Bautista said the TRO will derail the Comelec in its preparations. He pointed out that the Comelec is also handling disqualification cases against presidential bets.

Maraming hamon kaming hinaharap. E kami naman, ginagawa namin ang lahat ng magagawa para ma-meet natin ‘yung deadline,” Bautista said in an interview with dzBB’s Nimfa Ravelo. (We’re facing many challenges. We’re doing all that we can to meet the deadline.)

Pero kung mangyari na, kumbaga, hindi namin kakayanin, anong gagawin natin? Baka kailangan nating i-postpone ‘yung ating halalan,” Bautista said. (But if it so happens that, in a way, we can’t make it, what can we do? We might need to postpone the elections.)

Comelec to SC: Lift the TRO

In another interview on dzMM, Bautista said the Comelec needs to finalize the list of voters by December 15.

Bautista said the problem is, the SC is soon taking its Christmas break. He also heard reports that Tuesday, December 8, might be the SC’s last full session before the holidays.

Basta ang aming pakiusap, kung puwede, siguro ang mas maganda, i-lift muna nila ang TRO. Kung gusto nila magpa-oral arguments, kami naman po ay handa,” the Comelec chairman said on dzMM.

(Our request is, if possible, it will be better if they will first lift the TRO. If they want to hold oral arguments, we will be ready for it.)

Bautista added that before issuing the TRO, the SC should have consulted the Comelec first through oral arguments.

He would have wanted to present the Comelec’s timeline, he said.

He added that the “No Bio, No Boto” policy is based on a law that President Benigno Aquino III signed in 2013. (READ: Comelec defends ‘unconstitutional’ biometrics requirement)

Referring to the timing of the petition, he said, “Kung talagang may problema ang batas, bakit ngayon lang?” (If there’s really a problem with the law, why just now?)

This is not the first time that a move by the SC threatened the election timeline.  

Putting elections ‘in limbo’

In April, the SC issued a ruling that rendered the Philippines’ 82,000 vote-counting machines useless. 

This SC ruling stopped the maintenance and repair of precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines based on a contract betwen Comelec and technology provider Smartmatic.

The high court agreed with the petitioners that the P268.8-million ($6.08-million) Comelec-Smartmatic deal should have undergone public bidding.

The ruling derailed the Comelec’s schedule because the poll body couldn’t use the PCOS machines without being repaired.

Eventually, however, the Comelec bounced back when it conducted a public bidding and decided to lease 93,000 vote-counting machines from Smartmatic.

In 2013, the SC also issued orders that affected the Comelec while preparing for the midterm elections that year.

These orders included the following:

Back then, a teary-eyed Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr even threatened to quit because of the series of SC rulings against the poll body.

Saying the SC puts elections “in limbo,” Brillantes told reporters in 2013: “With this series of decisions coming from the Supreme Court – TRO, status quo ante – sabi ko, para namang lumalabas na, parang sila na ang nagpapatakbo ng eleksyon. Akala ko ba kami?” 

(With this series of decisions coming from the Supreme Court – TRO, status quo ante – I said, it looks like they’re the ones running the elections. I thought it was us?) – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.