Comelec divided on rules 2 weeks before polls

MANILA, Philippines – While they have only two weeks left before the May 9 polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) remains divided on at least two rules in polling precincts on election day.

The Comelec is set to tackle these rules – the amended general instructions (GI) for teachers serving as election inspectors – in its regular meeting on Tuesday, April 26. 

A Comelec insider told Rappler that Commissioner Christian Lim, the steering committee head for the 2016 elections, has formally opposed these rules through a memo sent to his colleagues.

The amended rules had been published on April 12. Lim, who was on official business when the poll body adopted these rules, already told reporters about his concerns in an interview on April 15. 

One contentious rule allows voters to get replacement ballots if, through no fault of their own, vote-counting machines (VCMs) reject their original ballots. (READ: The problem with Comelec's idea of replacement ballots)

Another rule, also the subject of debates, classifies the filing of "frivolous objections" as an election offense. This means voters can go to jail if they make frivolous objections over the way VCMs read their ballots as indicated on voting receipts. (READ: Can Comelec sue voters over 'frivolous' objections?)

The latest objection to these two rules came from Lim, the most senior poll commissioner in terms of years in office, who practically runs the May 9 elections as its steering committee head. 

Lim sent a memo to his colleagues on Friday, April 22, a source in the Comelec said.

'Disenfranchisement' seen

Lim joined Comelec Commissioner Sheriff Abas in his memo questioning the rules.

Rappler obtained a copy of Abas' memo dated April 19. (READ: Another Comelec exec questions new ballot rule)

In his memo, Abas said the ballot replacement rule might lead to the running out of ballots, which "will ultimately disenfranchise voters." (READ: Comelec ballot rule may rob voters of right to vote)

Abas said the rule on frivolous objections, on the other hand, "lacks basis" under the law. 

Explaining his fears regarding replacement ballots, 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:

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, who proposed this new rule, earlier said that because the poll body does not expect 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%.

Mall voting in limbo, too

Observers have warned, however, 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 the amended GI remains hanging, the Comelec also remains undecided on whether to turn a number of malls into polling precincts.

Lim sent a memo to his colleagues last Friday to say he now rejects the proposal.

Before this, Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon already rejected the proposal to hold elections in shopping centers. 

"It is unlawful," Guanzon told Rappler. 

Bautista, who also proposed mall voting, defended this project as a way to make voters feel more comfortable on election day.

The Comelec is expected to tackle mall voting, alongside replacement ballots and frivolous objections, in its regular meeting on Tuesday. 

This comes as the poll body faces other problems such as implementing a Supreme Court ruling on voting receipts and addressing the unprecedented Comelec data leak, considered the biggest leak of private data in Philippine history. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. 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.

image