Comelec eyes moving polls to 1st week of June

Paterno Esmaquel II
Comelec eyes moving polls to 1st week of June
(UPDATED) To avoid a failure of elections, former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr says it's best to issue voting receipts in 2019, not this year

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is thinking about moving the May 9 polls to the first week of June, as the poll body crams 5 months of preparations in only 60 days due to a Supreme Court (SC) ruling.

In an interview with dzBB on Sunday, March 13, Bautista was asked when the Comelec is considering to reschedule the elections if needed. 

Sinasabi sa amin, baka mangailangan ng isang buwan,” he said. (We’re told we might need a month.)

Asked if this means postponing the elections to June 9, the elections chief answered in reference to the month of June: “Mga first week.” (Around the first week.)

He said, however, that this is “cutting it close.”

“All options are being considered at the moment,” Bautista told Rappler in a text message on Monday, March 14, when asked to confirm if it is still a possibility to hold elections in the first week of June. 

In an interview with reporters on Monday, Bautista confirmed that the Comelec is looking at postponing the elections by “a few weeks.”

This comes after the Comelec told the SC on Friday, March 11, that a “failure of election” has become a “strong likelihood” after the High Court ordered the poll body to issue voting receipts.

The High Court issued this ruling based on a petition filed by senatorial candidate Richard Gordon and his political party, Bagumbayan, to compel the Comelec to issue voting receipts.

The Comelec failed to comment on Gordon and Bagumbayan’s petition and thus partly lost by default. (READ: Why Comelec failed to defend itself before SC: ‘We were busy’)

This thrust the Comelec into a state of emergency, which, according to the poll body, might force it to postpone the elections or hold manual polls.

Comelec hit for ‘scare tactic’

In his interview with reporters on Monday, Bautista added that the Comelec is not exploring a “no-el” or “no-election scenario,” but only “po-el” or the “postponement of elections.”

Bautista – former dean of the Far Eastern University law school, who also taught constitutional law – earlier said the Constitution allows postponing elections.

The Comelec chairman, however, said a law is needed to postpone the May 9 polls.

The 1987 Constitution states, “Unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election for President and Vice President shall be held on the second Monday of May.”

The same thing goes for senators and members of the House of Representatives.

Still, Bautista noted that the terms of public officials, including the President, will end on June 30.

Napakahalaga na ma-proclaim na ang mananalo before June 30, para magkaroon ng orderly transition,” he said. (It’s important to proclaim the winners before June 30 so that there would be an orderly transition.)

Reacting to this, critics assailed the Comelec for saying that it could postpone the elections because of the SC ruling on voting receipts.

“Comelec is again using the ‘no-el’ card as a scare tactic to blackmail the Supreme Court and the Filipino people,” Kabataan Party-list Representative Terry Ridon said in a statement Monday.

Ridon said: “Chairman Bautista says that they need at least another month to prepare for the new configuration. But what we want to ask is this: Is Comelec again floating ‘no-el’ because the vote count machines have already been pre-programmed to ensure the victory of a particular candidate?” 

The party-list congressman said the Comelec is in “panic mode” also because of the SC ruling that allowed Senator Grace Poe, the front runner in the latest Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, to run for president. (READ: Poe overtakes Binay in SWS poll; Robredo gains most)

The administration bet, former interior secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, has lagged behind in the presidential race, though his ratings rose by 4 percentage points in the latest SWS survey.

Ridon said: “We fear that there is a massive automated cheating in the wraps, and the machines have already been pre-programmed to let the administration bet to win. With the SC overturning Poe’s disqualification, those behind this possible pre-programmed cheating may be vying for time to reconfigure their foiled plan.”

Ridon did not provide evidence to prove his claims.

Ex-poll chief: OK to voting receipts, but…

While facing these accusations, the Comelec is now discussing its next steps after the SC’s ruling on voting receipts.

On Monday, the poll body held a closed-door meeting with stakeholders, including representatives of political parties, to tackle this crisis.

Former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr attended this meeting on Monday.

Brillantes said he agrees that there could be a failure of election if the Comelec issues voting receipts. This is because the Comelec has to rush many of its processes to heed the SC ruling.

For now, he said the best solution is to strike a compromise: to heed the SC ruling but in the elections in 2019, because it is too late to implement it this year. 

Huwag na nating awayin ang Supreme Court (Let’s not quarrel with the Supreme Court),” the usually combative Brillantes said as he sought a middle ground.

Referring to the issuance of voting receipts, Brillantes told reporters: “Hindi na rin naman nasunod noong May 2010. Hindi rin nasunod noong 2013. E ano ba naman ‘yung pangatlo, hindi masunod, siguraduhin mo na lang na sumunod sa pang-apat?

(It was not followed anyway in 2010. It was also not followed in 2013. What’s the problem with not following it again the 3rd time, and just ensuring that it will be followed in the 4th?) – 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.