Another Comelec exec questions new ballot rule

Paterno Esmaquel II
Another Comelec exec questions new ballot rule
In a memorandum obtained by Rappler, Comelec Commissioner Sheriff Abas says the ballot replacement rule might 'eventually disenfranchise voters'

MANILA, Philippines – Three weeks before the May 9 elections, another Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner questioned the poll body’s unprecedented rule allowing voters to get replacement ballots on election day. 

The Comelec recently allowed voters to get replacement ballots on election day, if it is not their fault that vote-counting machines (VCMs) reject their original ballots.

In a memorandum addressed to his colleagues, a copy of which was obtained by Rappler, Comelec Commissioner Sheriff Abas said this might lead to the running out of ballots, which “will ultimately disenfranchise voters.” (READ: Comelec ballot rule may rob voters of right to vote

In this memo dated April 19, Abas also rejected a new rule that makes it an election offense to file “frivolous” objections. He said this “lacks basis” under the law. (READ: Can Comelec sue voters over ‘frivolous’ objections?)

He then asked the Comelec en banc, or the commission sitting as a whole, to revisit the amended general instructions for election inspectors or Resolution 10088 in light of these “primordial concerns.” 

Abas joined Comelec Commissioner Christian Lim, the steering committee head for the 2016 elections, in questioning two provisions of Resolution 10088.

Explaining his fears, Abas pointed out that the Comelec “is tasked to print official ballots (OBs) on a one ballot per one voter ratio.” He said his concern “is the unavoidable risk of running short of OBs for voters on election day” if the Comelec issues replacement ballots.

Abas said that in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, for instance, the voter turnout in certain areas was “close to a hundred percent” in “numerous instances.”

He cited the voter turnout in the following areas in the 2013 elections: 

  • Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao – 99.46%
  • Talayan, Maguindanao – 99.38%
  • Picong, Lanao del Sur – 99.14%

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, who proposed this new rule, earlier said that because the poll body does not expect a 100% voter turnout, it believes there will be spare ballots that can be used as replacement ballots. In the Philippines’ last presidential elections held in 2010, for instance, voter turnout was 75%.

‘It lacks necessary parameters’

In his memorandum on April 19, Abas also said that the new provision lacks guidelines aside from the general statement that replacement ballots be issued “if the rejection of the ballot was not due to the fault of the voter.” 

“It lacks necessary parameters to consider when to or when not to issue a replacement OB considering factors other than the reason for rejection,” Abas said.

“Undersigned is fearful that allowing replacement ballots may lead to the scarcity of OBs, which will ultimately disenfranchise voters who intend to cast their votes in the later hours on election day,” he added.

Observers have warned that politicians can use the ballot replacement rule to cheat their rivals in this year’s elections.

This could happen if they instruct their supporters to get replacement ballots so that there would be no ballots left for their rivals’ sympathizers. All they need to do is come to the polling precincts early, make sure their ballots are rejected by the VCMs, then ask for replacement ballots.

While questioning the ballot replacement rule, Abas rejected a new rule that classifies the filing of “frivolous objections” as an election offense.

Abas said this provision “is not only confusing but, at its worst, without basis in law and jurisprudence.”

He said he has not found anything in the Omnibus Election Code “which makes criminal or declares as an election offense the act of filing frivolous objections.”

Abas then cited a basic principle of criminal law: “There is no crime when there is no law punishing it.”

“When Congress did not intend to make an act criminal, the Commission as an agency tasked to administer and execute the legislative act may not, in an administrative issuance, make the same act criminal,” he said.

The commissioner added that Resolution 10088 “failed to mention the specific provision of the law which categorizes the subject act as illegal.” (READ: The problem with Comelec’s idea of replacement ballots)

Like Abas, Lim called this an “impossible crime.” He also described this as a form of “Comelec legislation” that is baseless under the law.

Lim even said implementing this could be “an impeachable offense.”

Poll chief: ‘Hindi ka ba masasaktan?’

The Comelec chairman, for his part, defended this provision in a news conference on Wednesday, April 20.

Bautista said he was thinking of the welfare of voters whose ballots get rejected through no fault of their own.

Kung ikaw ‘yung botanteng ‘yon, how would you feel? Hindi ka ba masasaktan? Hindi ka ba mafu-frustrate? Eto ka pumila ka nang tatlong oras, gusto mong bumoto, gusto mong ihayag ang iyong choices, tapos hindi ka makaboto dahil hindi mo naman kasalanan,” Bautista said.

(If you were that voter, how would you feel? Wouldn’t you feel hurt? Wouldn’t you be frustrated? You lined up for 3 hours, you wanted to vote, you wanted to express your choices, but you cannot vote through no fault of your own.)

Bautista said the Comelec en banc will still discuss how to determine if the ballot rejection was the fault of the voter or the machine. 

Asked up to how many times the Comelec can issue replacement ballots to a voter, Bautista said the Comelec has no rules on this yet. “Pero makikita mo rin naman, e, ‘pagka inaabuso na e,” he said. (But you will also see if it’s already being abused.)

Siguro pag-uusapan muli,” he added. (Maybe we will talk about it again.)

After finalizing these rules, the Comelec is set to cascade its guidelines to 277,000 teachers serving as election inspectors.

It is only 18 days away from election day. – 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.