SC upholds ‘no bio, no boto’

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - It’s final: only voters who had their biometric data recorded will be allowed to vote in next year’s general elections.

In special session yesterday, Supreme Court justices unanimously decided to uphold the “no bio, no boto” policy of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The decision, penned by Associate Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe, effectively lifted a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by the high tribunal last Dec. 1 on the biometrics program, whose implementation is mandated by law.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista had warned that the TRO, if not lifted soon, could lead to the suspension of the 2016 vote. Critics accused him of trying to “blackmail” the SC.

“It’s very good news for us because we don’t have to revise the project of precincts. It’s very hard to put back names of voters,” Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon told reporters after learning of the Supreme Court (SC) decision.

Project of precincts or POP refers to the designation of polling precincts and their respective voters.

In its decision, the high court dismissed for lack of merit the petition of the Kabataan party-list group questioning the constitutionality of the program that would disenfranchise some 2.4 million registered voters without digital photographs, signatures and fingerprints in their registration records.

Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon and his group argued that the new policy – provided under Republic Act No. 10367 and Comelec Resolution Nos. 9721, 9863 and 10013 – violates the Constitution as it adds a “substantive requirement” for Filipinos to be able to exercise their right to suffrage. President Aquino signed RA 10367 in February 2013.

The petitioners also argued that the new policy “violates due process as it is an unreasonable deprivation of the constitutional right to vote for millions of Filipinos who have failed to register their biometric information despite existing and active registration.”

They said it was “in effect a voter’s re-registration – for various reasons whether personal or institutional.”

The SC rejected the arguments.

“Registering is only one step towards voting, and it is not one of the elements that makes the citizen a qualified voter,” the court explained.

“Thus, unless it is shown that a registration requirement rises to the level of a literacy, property or other substantive requirement as contemplated by the framers of the Constitution – that is, one which propagates a socio-economic standard which is bereft of any rational basis to a person’s ability to intelligently cast his vote and to further the public good – the same cannot be struck down as unconstitutional, as in this case,” it stressed.

Scrutiny test passed

The high tribunal also rejected the petitioners’ argument that the new policy did not pass the “strict scrutiny” test.

“The regulation was narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling state interest of establishing a clean, complete, permanent and updated list of voters, and was demonstrably the least restrictive means to promote that interest,” the SC pointed out.

The high court earlier dismissed another petition of Kabataan party-list seeking extension of the Oct. 31 deadline for voters’ registration set by the Comelec.

Guanzon said delisted voters may still apply for registration “after the May elections, but before the barangay elections in October 2016 so that they can vote in the barangay elections.”

“There will be sufficient period for these voters to do their biometrics validation after May 2016,” she added.

With the SC decision, Malacañang sees no more reason to delay or postpone the May 2016 elections.

“We note the resolution of the Supreme Court dismissing the petition filed against the Comelec’s ‘no bio, no boto’ policy,” Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said yesterday.

“We leave it to the Comelec’s best judgment, as an independent constitutional body, on how to proceed in the light of the Supreme Court ruling, in terms of ensuring that preparations for the holding of the May 2016 elections are in place in accordance with its timetable,” Coloma said.

The Palace earlier said it was not in favor of postponing the May 2016 elections as such would not serve the best interest of the country.

It said it was up to the Comelec to do whatever was necessary to ensure the elections would push through.

The Palace earlier rejected insinuations raised by some quarters that delaying or postponing the elections was part of the administration’s plan to extend President Aquino’s stay in office.

The President has repeatedly emphasized he has no plans to remain in power after June 30, 2016. – Aurea Calica, Sheila Crisostiomo, Delon Porcalla

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