Comelec reviewing voter registration

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - With chaos marking the just-concluded registration of voters, poll officials are eyeing a review of rules and procedures as well as sanctions against those who provided false proof of identity or who had registered more than once.

Thousands swarmed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) office in Manila last Tuesday and Wednesday to beat the deadline for registration for the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections in October.

The Comelec, chaired by Sixto Brillantes Jr., said many of the registrants appeared to have been goaded into registering by some candidates in the barangay polls.

There were reports that many of the registrants were informal settlers who had been promised protection from relocation.

Commissioner Lucenito Tagle yesterday said a review of procedures would help them spot provisions in the rules and procedures against double or multiple registration.

“Maybe if they can be sanctioned, they will no longer allow themselves to be used by people who have the intention to cheat in the elections,” Tagle told The STAR.

“The applications for voter’s registration will be evaluated first by the ERB so we’ll be able to know who have double or multiple registrations. This is part of our screening process to cleanse the voter’s lists,” he said, referring to the Election Registration Board.

As part of procedure, the ERB will schedule a hearing and seek explanation from those found with more than one registration.

“Through this process, we hope to establish who really have the intention to have more than one registration,” he said.

Commissioner Grace Padaca said hakot (herding voters) was at work during the recent voter’s registration.

Citing an example, Padaca said 50 individuals registered under one address in Pasay City.

She said the addresses given by many of those who registered were in commercial districts and not in residential areas. She also found it suspicious that there were numerous applications for transfer of registration.

“It has been abused. They want their records transferred because they were herded by politicians – they comprised the bulk of registrants,” she noted.

The Comelec, she said, had tried to address the problem – through Resolution 9750 – by removing police clearance from the list of required identification documents.

“It was precisely meant to discourage the hakot by requiring identification cards, not as easy to get as police clearance,” she added.

Money changed hands

Brillantes, meanwhile, said the number of potential voters for the barangay and SK elections had reached 1.2 million and 2.3 million, respectively – significantly higher than the expected 700,000 and two million registrants.

He said the figures were for July 30 and do not include those who registered on July 31.

“This is really shocking. The number of people swarming (Comelec) offices was really unbelievable. We don’t understand why but you can see there was really a drive among the prospective candidates to encourage, to bring registrants to the precincts.  Sometimes money is changing hands,” he added.

He said prospective candidates may have already been counting potential supporters.

“When you see your rival bringing in voters, you will also bring voters. This is very obvious in urban areas, in Bacolod, Cagayan de Oro, General Santos, Laoag, Dagupan, Baguio, in Metro Manila. It is really terrible,” he said.

He admitted that the Comelec’s hands were tied in dealing with the so-called hakot system.

“There is no direct liability because we really encourage registration. But if you make hakot and you pay, maybe a violation has been committed but I cannot say for sure now what kind of violation. It is some sort of vote buying in preparation for elections,” he said.

Brillantes also said dealing with the hakot system is not a priority of the Comelec as of now.

He added that in order to discourage flying voters, the Comelec’s ERB would be thoroughly screening the registrants.

“I will give instruction to the ERB to review the transferees strictly,” he said.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal also said there is no provision in election laws or Comelec resolutions imposing penalties on those who herd registrants.

“But the Comelec and any concerned citizen is not without legal remedy to assail the alleged ‘new voters’ with questionable if not suspicious residency. Such registration is not yet final,” he said.

“Any voter may question any registrant by opposing the application for registration on or before Aug. 8 on such ground as being non-resident of the place of registration or not complying with the six-month residency before the election,” he said.

In case a suspicious application for registration is approved by the ERB, any voter, political party, or even the Comelec may file a petition for exclusion before the Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) on or before Aug. 30.

“In a word, the registration of these voters is not yet final and is not a guarantee that they could be legally included in the Certified Voters List for purposes of the Oct. 28 elections,” Macalintal said.

Palace hands off

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said it’s up to the Comelec to determine if there was irregularity in the surge of registrants for the coming barangay and SK polls.

“We are out of that. We don’t interfere in the registration process of the Comelec, regardless of any election,” Lacierda said.

He said that while they have not yet discussed proposals to postpone the SK elections, they are studying calls for the abolition of the body.

Lacierda also said they were looking into reports that many of the “new” registrants were informal settlers and transferees lured by the promise of protection from demolition.

He stressed, however, that it’s not their job to determine what prompted thousands to troop to the Comelec to register.

Lacierda said there might be those who had been disenfranchised and felt the need to register again, like deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

“It is good, however, that more people participate in the election process. That’s a very sacred right. The right of suffrage is a sacred right and that should be exercised by every Filipino. As to the process of registering, that’s another matter which we leave with Comelec,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda also said President Aquino had directed Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II to study proposals seeking the abolition of the SK.

The Comelec had called on Aquino to certify as urgent proposed measures seeking to abolish the SK.

“We need to weigh the pros and the cons… It’s now a matter being studied by the DILG,” Lacierda said.

Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier called for the postponement of the SK elections to 2016 to allow Congress to come up with necessary reforms in the system.    

If approved, all incumbent SK officials will remain in their posts until October 2016. Marcos noted that the National Youth Commission itself has expressed support for the postponement of the SK elections.

Lacierda said no formal or official recommendation had reached the Palace regarding SK polls postponement. Aurea Calica, Danny Dangcalan, Eva Visperas

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