No Bio, No Vote?

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

The Commission on Elections should stop confusing the people. They should show more sincerity and truthfulness in addressing the many issues thrown at them so that they can work better for the country’s future. They had at least two years to prepare for the 2016 elections. Sadly, they seemed to have focused more on the financial issues (cost of PCOS machines) and left the important details for review to ensure the efficient implementation of their systems.

Last week the Supreme Court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the “No Bio, No Boto” policy of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) requiring voters to register their biometrics before they can be allowed to vote in the 2016 polls. The TRO issued directed the Comelec to “desist from deactivating registered voters without biometric information.

The critical issue in the electoral process is the Filipino’s right to vote. When Comelec announced that every voter needed a biometric identification card, I said why couldn’t they just use our SSS ID or TIN card? At least by requiring these official and legitimate government IDs, you know that every voter is a contributing member of society. They are not dead, neither are they flying nor ghost voters. Really, I’m curious, what is the difference between a government ID and the biometric ID? Why spend for another ID? Why didn’t Comelec require any of our governemnt IDs instead? Didn’t they realize the tedious process they are putting every Filipino into? The time, the effort, the sweat, the torment and the torture they put us through? Obviously, many were not able to acquire it. So are they happy? Do they really want to limit the participation of the Filipinos in the 2016 election? Can they really do that?

I already wrote about the tragedy this biometric card has done to the lives of many Pinoys. To get a card it took many of us an average of 4 gruelling hours. People waited under the scorching heat of the sun as they inhaled the stench coming from the dirty areas of the municipal or barangay halls while the lucky ones had the luxury of going to the malls. So much of our precious time was wasted and emotions run high because of the inefficiency of the Comelec biometric team in the different parts of the country. Does the Chairman realize what he has put us through? Sanamagan!

Now after all the hullabaloos, the Supreme Court issues a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the “No Bio, No Boto” policy of the Comelec. The TRO was issued last week and directed the Comelec to desist from deactivating registered voters without biometric information. Why did Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista even fall for this plot? Why didn’t he see this coming? The Comelec has no right to stop a qualified voter from voting. Not even a biometric rule can replace the universal law that every citizen has the right to vote.

Article V – Suffrage in the 1987 Constitution states: Section 1. Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year, and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.

Article V is not about presumptive decisions that Comelec can assume they have the mandate to do so. It is unconstitutional for Comelec to simply ignore counting each voters ballot. When a machine failure occurs, it is the obligation of Comelec to count the ballots manually and have it fully accounted for. It is not also in the mandate of the Comelec to deactivate the list of qualified voters simply because they have no biometrics.

As the country is yearning to vote, we must not forget the efforts of many citizens that for years now have battled against the questionable practices of Comelec in attending to various issues regarding the automated elections and Smartmatic PCOS machines. Despite the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee (JCOC) hearings in the Senate being presented with issues and cases, not many or no significant issues were ever solved.

So the tireless efforts of those advocating fair elections have been totally and unfairly dealt with by both the JCOC and Comelec with Smartmatic in the background feeling untouchable. How can they justify abiding by the constitutional directive on suffrage?

In my discussion with legal experts, I learned that with all these efforts in pursuing Comelec and the JCOC even with the submission of Supreme Court writs, there is a legal avenue that can be considered applicable and can be submitted to the Supreme Court – Certiorari under Rule 65 of the Revised Rules of Court. Certiorari is a writ or order by which a higher court reviews a decision of a lower court. Under Rule 65, a party may only avail himself of the special remedy of certiorari under the ff: “Section I – Petition for Certiorari – when any tribunal, board or officer exercising judicial or quasi-judicial functions has acted without or in excess of its or his jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction, and there is no appeal, nor any plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law, a person aggrieved thereby may file a verified petition in the proper court, alleging the facts with certainty and praying that judgment be rendered annulling or modifying the proceedings of such tribunal, board or office and granting such incidental relief as law and justice may require.”

Excess of jurisdiction as distinguished from absence of jurisdiction, means that an act, though within the general power of a tribunal, a board or an officer is not authorized, and is invalid with respect to the particular proceeding, because the conditions which alone authorize the exercise of the general power in respect of it are wanting. “Without jurisdiction” means lack or want of legal power, right or authority to hear and determine a cause or causes, considered either in general or with reference to a particular matter. It means lack of power to exercise authority.”

The behavior of the Comelec is exactly this excess of jurisdiction. With all the legal experts we have in the Philippines, it is a wonder why they have not addressed this legal right against Comelec since 2010 and 2013 elections.

We have four months left before the 2016 elections. We need to clear the path for a fair and honest election. This is the time to fight for our right of suffrage. Let us not waste this opportunity.

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