Palace: May polls must push through
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - December 7, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The elections should push through in May as President Aquino is bent on stepping down and taking a “long delayed break,” Malacañang said yesterday, as it squelched fears of a“no-elections” scenario.

Fears of a “no-el” scenario have arisen after a Supreme Court order temporarily stopped the “no bio, no boto” campaign of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

“No, excuse me... We are counting the number of days left. How many days do we have? We have 206 days left and we cannot wait to leave – for the President to take his long-delayed break,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said yesterday.

“We would like to hand over the government to the next administration, whoever the people choose to succeed President Aquino,” he said.

Lacierda said they certainly did not entertain a “no-el” scenario.

“We would like the elections to push through. This is something that people are looking forward to in May of 2016. So we would certainly like the elections to push through,” he said. 

Earlier, Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista expressed fears that the SC temporary restraining order on the “no bio, no boto” drive would upset the poll body’s schedule of preparations for the May 2016 polls.

Lacierda said that while it would be up to the SC to decide on the Comelec’s policy not to allow voters without biometrics to exercise their right to vote, it would be in the interest of everyone if the elections would push through in May.

He said he understands Bautista’s concerns but pointed to the “constitutional requirement that we should vote, that elections should be held in May.”

“So the elections need to push through in May,” Lacierda said.

“We will defer to the judgment of the Supreme Court. I believe that they also have the best interest of our country in mind,” he said.

He said the executive branch, the Comelec and the SC should all have the interest of the people in mind – and that would be for elections to push through.

Appeal

Bautista also ruled out a no-elections scenario and promised to vigorously work for the lifting of the high court’s TRO.

He said they would not only file a motion for reconsideration but would also request the SC in writing to lift the TRO pending the resolution of the petition against the “no bio, no boto” campaign.

“We are prepared for oral arguments. We are ready to defend biometrics so we hope that the TRO will be lifted because we are working on a tight schedule,” he said.

Last week, the high tribunal issued a TRO stopping the Comelec from deactivating voters without biometrics.

The Comelec warned the inclusion of some 2.5 million voters who do not have biometrics would leave the poll body dealing with countless flying voters in next year’s elections.

Inclusion of voters without biometrics would also stop the Comelec from reducing the number of voters assigned per vote counting machine from 1,000 to 800. Such failure is expected to result in long queues at polling precincts on election day.

Bautista noted the Comelec also might have to include again the voters who have been deactivated. Before the 17-month voter’s registration started in May 2014, there were some 9.6 million voters without biometrics.

“No-bio, no boto is not an initiative of the Comelec. We are merely implementing the (mandatory biometrics) law so I don’t understand why oppositions are being raised only now when the law was passed in 2013,” he added.

No-el denied

Bautista also denied raising the specter of a “no-el” scenario due to the TRO, saying the worst that can happen is for the May 9, 2016 polls to be delayed.

“I never said that. What I said is that this can materially impact or is materially impacting our preparations for the 2016 elections. Why is that? Because the number of voters will determine several things about our elections,” he maintained.

He assured the public that while the Comelec is pressed for time, it is doing its best to make sure that elections are held on schedule.

By Dec. 15, the Comelec is looking at finalizing the task of assigning voters to their respective polling precincts.

He added that aside from the clustering of precincts, the number of voters is also significant in determining the number of ballots and other supplies that may be needed during the elections. 

But even the likelihood of a delay in the elections is unthinkable for party-list group Kabataan, which filed the SC petition stopping the Comelec’s “no bio, no boto” campaign.

“The national elections are mandated by no other than our Constitution. It is not an exercise conducted for the convenience of the Comelec,” Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon said.

“The Comelec cannot make a postponement without Congress enacting an enabling law,” he said.

Ridon said he did not expect the Comelec to resort to “spreading fears” to have the restraining order lifted.

He said the Mandatory Biometrics Law (Republic Act No. 10367) and the three Comelec resolutions implementing it are unconstitutional, since these impose an “additional substantive requirement” on the right to vote.

“Section 1, Article V of the Constitution explicitly states that no literary, property or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage,” he said.

He pointed out that Kabataan only wanted to protect the estimated three million voters who failed to have their biometrics taken.

“Instead of threatening to postpone the elections just to force the SC to lift the TRO, the Comelec should focus on the much-needed adjustments to allow people covered by this TRO to vote,” he added.

Bautista said the poll body has given voters enough time to have their biometrics taken.

He said the Comelec even conducted voter registration at malls in Metro Manila to accommodate voters. 

Other lawmakers also accused the Comelec of raising a “no-el” scenario as they urged the public to be vigilant.

Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco, president of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance, said it was unacceptable for the Comelec to raise the prospect of holding off or even canceling the elections.

“The Constitution mandates that elections be held, and mandates that the Comelec administers it. It has no choice but to administer the elections within the bounds of whatever ruling the Supreme Court will make,” Tiangco told The STAR.

Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, spokesman for the Nationalist People’s Coalition, said such statements from the Comelec should make Filipinos more vigilant and assertive of their rights.

“This warrants for everyone to get involved in matters concerning the upcoming electoral exercise in 2016,” Enverga said.

ACT Teachers party-list Rep. Antonio Tinio said it was grossly irresponsible for the Comelec to make such statements.

“We were surprised that of all agencies, it was the Comelec that was talking about a no-el,” Tinio said.

Parañaque City Rep. Gustavo Tambunting said it is the Comelec that should be the first to assure Filipinos that elections would definitely push through.

Davao City Rep. Karlo Nograles said if there would be any complications from whatever is decided by the SC, “the Comelec has to adjust accordingly.” – With Sheila Crisostomo, Jess Diaz, Paolo Romero

ACIRC ANTONIO TINIO ARTICLE V OF THE CONSTITUTION BAUTISTA BIOMETRICS COMELEC ELECTIONS LACIERDA PRESIDENT AQUINO SUPREME COURT VOTERS
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