MANILA, Philippines – Confirmed COVID-19 patients who are in quarantine or isolation facilities on May 9 may have no opportunity to cast their ballots, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said.
Commissioner George Garcia cited Republic Act 11332 or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, which said that people who are the subject of quarantine and isolation measures are bound to comply with such an order.
“Because we have RA 11332 and prevailing Interagency Task Force guidelines, confirmed COVID-19 patients may not be allowed to leave their homes or facilities because barangays are strict in implementing [quarantine protocols],” Garcia said.
“We cannot bring the ballots to isolation facilities,” he added.
How quarantined Filipinos would vote on election day was a question acknowledged by the Comelec last year, but it said legal and financial limitations constrained the poll body.
“One [possibility] is to expand the law on local absentee voting, to include those who are confined in isolation facilities,” Comelec deputy executive director Teopisto Elnas told the Senate electoral reforms panel in September 2021. “[But] our problem again is budgetary requirements, because you will need support staff, or another set of electoral boards that will conduct the voting in the isolation facilities.”
However, proposals on expanded local absentee voting, mail-in voting, and even early voting of vulnerable sectors did not materialize in the 18th Congress.
Meanwhile, Filipinos who are exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms on election day but have not confirmed whether they are carrying the virus will be accommodated by poll workers, but will be asked to cast their ballots in separate rooms called isolation polling places.
The Department of Health (DOH) previously advised Filipinos with COVID-19 symptoms to stay at home on election day to avoid infecting other people.
COVID-19 fears reignited in the Philippines after the DOH detected its first case of the Omicron BA.2.12 sub-variant, which is behind a new surge in the United States.
But the Comelec asserted that the possibility of postponing the polls is not on the table.
“We are sure that suspension is not an option. We will do the elections as mandated by the Constitution,” Comelec Commissioner and steering committee head Marlon Casquejo said on Thursday, April 28. – Rappler.com