Comelec aborts mall voting plan

Mayen Jaymalin - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Faced with mounting criticism, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has shelved its plan to conduct voting in shopping malls.

Voting 4-3, the Comelec on Tuesday night decided against mall voting for the May 9 elections, overturning its March 10 resolution.

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista said three commissioners – Christian Lim, Luie Guia and Arthur Lim – who previously voted for mall voting considered the dissenting opinion of Commissioner Rowena Guanzon.

Only Commissioners Al Parreño and Sheriff Abas voted with Bautista favoring mall voting.

Last March 10, the Comelec approved mall voting but three commissioners eventually decided against it, citing Omnibus Election Code (OEC) provisions on transfer of polling precincts.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, transfer of polling precincts is allowed within 45 days before a regular election.

Bautista said the three commissioners changed their mind after the Comelec started sending out Voter Information Sheets to some of the 231,174 regular voters who would have been beneficiaries of the mall voting project.

The Comelec has also signed separate memoranda of agreement with Robinsons Malls and Ayala Malls, with eight other malls lined up.

“We apologize to our voters who were already informed of their transfer to malls. We are now in the process of informing them of their new voting areas. Basically, we will just return them to their old polling precincts,” Bautista explained.

“We also apologize to our mall partners because we know they have already spent for this project because they are also excited with this partnership as part of their corporate social responsibility,” he added.

Bautista admitted he was saddened with the junking of the mall voting project, saying he felt like all the efforts were put to waste.

On the other hand, Sens. Aquilino Pimentel III, Vicente Sotto III and Francis Escudero welcomed the Comelec’s decision to shelve mall voting.

“It’s good they cancelled it because that has doubtful legal basis. It will cause unnecessary headache for Comelec and the voters to be transferred to malls. Good, everything avoided,” said Pimentel, chairman of the Senate committee on electoral reforms.

For his part, Escudero said he agrees with the poll body’s decision because the proposal should be reviewed further.

Replacement ballots to proceed

But the Comelec will still allow replacement ballots despite strong opposition against it.

In a resolution, the Comelec ordered that replacement ballot shall be issued to a voter whose ballot is rejected by the vote counting machine (VCM), but  only if the rejection of the ballot is not due to the fault of the voter.

But Comelec’s accredited citizens’ arm the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting and other sectors are strongly opposing replacement ballots, warning it could lead to confusion on election day.

Guanzon said the Comelec decided to go through with the plan to give one replacement ballot to voters whose ballots have been rejected.

“Only one replacement ballot. After that, if it still does not work, then the voter just has to make sure that incident is recorded in the minutes of voting of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs),” she added.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the poll body is also implementing a limit to the replacement ballot policy to avoid ballot shortage.

“If the ballot supply reaches a certain point, they will no longer issue replacement ballots. This will avoid the possibility of having ballot shortage.” All members of the BEIs shall decide whether a voter should be entitled or not to a replacement ballot, Jimenez explained.

‘Frivolous complaints are election offense’

The Comelec also affirmed its decision to make voters’ frivolous complaints an election offense to prevent voters from casting doubt on the credibility of the elections.

“Frivolous objections will mean, under the OEC, are making false statements, causing confusion,” Guanzon said.

Under the OEC, it is prohibited for any person who, for the purpose of disrupting or obstructing the election process or causing confusion among the voters, propagates false and alarming reports or information regarding any matter relating to the general conduct of the election.

But Guanzon said those who would formally file their objections before the BEIs as to the contents of their voting receipts cannot be considered as frivolous complaints.

“If they say that their receipt did not print the candidates they voted for, that is not a frivolous objection if, according to our general instructions, the voters sign at the back of their receipt and it will be (attached) and written by the BEI in the Minutes of Voting,” she explained.

Cops, soldiers prohibited in polling places

The Comelec has also prohibited police and military officers from going inside polling centers on election day.

In a resolution, the Comelec said no personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) or Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is allowed to enter polling and canvassing places unless there are disturbances in peace and order.

All security personnel shall stay beyond the 50-meter radius from the polling and canvassing places they are assigned to secure.

“In no case shall the PNP and AFP officer hold any conversation with any voter, disturb, prevent or in any manner obstruct the free access of voters in polling place,” the poll body said.

“If deemed necessary,” the BEIs and the Board of Canvassers (BOCs) upon majority vote may call for the detailing of police and military personnel for the protection of election document and paraphernalia, the poll body added.

The Comelec also said the Joint Security Control Center (JSCC) may establish a security assistance desk to oversee security in the area. 

During the retrieval of Automated Election System (AES) and the delivery of election returns and other documents and paraphernalia, the JSCC shall provide appropriate security escorts to BEIs and BOCs.

Immediately after the voting and canvassing, the AES and paraphernalia shall be under the custody and responsibility of the BEIs and the BOCs.

“The BEIs and BOCs shall ensure that all AES machines and paraphernalia are all accounted for.” Any case of missing or damaged AES shall be investigated to determine liability of the BEIs and BOCs, the Comelec added. - With Christina Mendez

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