Comelec bracing for heated polls

Robertzon Ramirez - The Philippine Star
Comelec bracing for heated polls
On the last day of voters' registration, individuals register for the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections at a mall in Quezon City on January 31, 2023.
STAR / Jesse Bustos

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is working closely with the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) as it expects more heated barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections this October, compared with the national polls on May 9 last year.

In an interview with “The Chiefs” aired on Cignal TV’s One News last Friday night, Comelec spokesman Rex Laudiangco explained that the barangay and SK polls are more heated than the national elections, since the people involved are from within the same family or of the same locality.

“In the barangay, the battle is getting a bit personal – sibling, father-child, neighbors. When taking sides, most of the time they quarrel or harbor ill-feelings,” Laudiangco said in Filipino.

“That’s why in the peace and order situation that we are monitoring, we partner with the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. Logistics-wise, the national and barangay and SK elections are the same, but when it comes to peace and order, monitoring is more thorough for the latter because we are already looking at barangays here,” he added.

Banking on the people’s experience during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, when barangay officials played an important role in providing assistance to residents, Laudiangco said they are expecting greater people’s participation in the barangay and SK polls.

He added that they have been “capitalizing” on this during their voter education campaign on how voters can change the landscape of their local leaders and the important role that barangay officials play not only during difficult times, but also in the daily operations of the barangay.

“We are capitalizing on our experiences during the pandemic, and we are enlightening our voters that this is how important the barangay is in our society which, practically, all government services are brought down and can be brought down to the barangay,” he said.

Asked if the Comelec is ready if the Supreme Court (SC) orders the poll body to hold the elections ahead of its October schedule, Laudiangco responded that they are prepared to hold the barangay and SK polls not later than May as he emphasized that they have started their preparations since last year.

He said they have printed all the ballots and other election paraphernalia in five regions and several provinces, which will be followed by the delivery of other supplies and equipment after conducting the voter registration last month.

He added that they are all set “as early as March or early April” this year should the SC order them to hold it earlier than October.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal filed in November last year before the SC an urgent appeal to hold the barangay and SK polls in May, instead of October, this year as he questioned the constitutionality of the law postponing the barangay and SK polls in December last year.

Security, cheating issues

Meanwhile, Laudiangco allayed public fears over security and cheating concerns on the Comelec’s plans to launch voting in select malls in the country as part of the poll body’s efforts to introduce reforms in the country’s electoral process.

In the same interview with “The Chiefs,” he said people should not worry about the sanctity of their votes in a mall voting setup as they would be deploying the same teachers and board of canvassers deployed in regular polling precincts.

“We don’t see cheating issues here because the same teachers, the same set of electoral boards will be serving at the malls,” he affirmed when asked if they consider the people’s concern that cheating can be easily done in a mall voting setup.

As far as security issues are concerned, mall voting is more secure than regular voting in schools with the presence of the malls’ security officers, who also provide assistance when voters line up and go to their polling areas, according to the Comelec spokesman.

He also stressed that they have proven the efficiency of holding electoral activities at malls with the success of their Register Anywhere Project (RAP) and with the regular voter registration in previous national and local elections.

He said they are ready to launch mall voting as they bank on their healthy relationship with the Comelec’s mall partners as proven in their previous election-related activities.

Comelec Chairman George Garcia recently disclosed that they are eyeing to launch mall voting in future elections as part of their efforts to introduce reforms in the country’s electoral process, which includes the recently concluded RAP.

Under the mall voting set-up, Laudiangco said “it’s just a matter of positioning which barangays” will be catered as he noted that setting up polling places is within the proximity of the barangay where the voters will cast their votes.

“Setting up of polling places should be within the proximity of the voting barangay, as we will see to it that voters won’t have to commute and spend for transport fare; practically, polling places should be walking distance,” he said.

“It’s just a matter of transferring precincts; what we’re supposed to do at schools, we will just transfer to malls – the same setup: the electoral boards will be there, precincts will be provided, where the voting will be conducted and our security, easier and more convenient for our fellow citizens,” he added.

The Comelec is just transferring polling precincts to the malls and not adding new ones to provide comfort and easy access for the voters.

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