By Jauhn Etienne Villaruel | ABS-CBN News
MANILA — A Lanao del Sur town mayor on Tuesday ordered the local office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to stop its voter registration activities due to "surge" of COVID-19 cases, despite the province being under the most lax quarantine classification.
Malabang Mayor Mohaman Macapodi on Aug. 31 wrote to election officer (EO) Samirah Omar asking the Comelec to suspend its voter registration in the area in compliance to his order to ban all mass gatherings until Sept. 15.
Macapodi claimed "some people who tested positive for COVID-19 attended your satellite registration in Barangay Pasir."
But in reply to Macapodi's order, Omar argued voter registration is allowed in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ), which prevails in the whole Lanao del Sur province until Sept. 7.
"We note that the Province of Lanao is presently under the MGCQ status… We further note that… IATF rules recognize an alternative work arrangement for Comelec, being an independent Constitutional Commission," Omar said in her letter obtained by ABS-CBN News.
Omar also countered Macapodi's "sweeping and generic statement" regarding his claim that some new COVID-19 cases came from their voter registration.
"Please know that while we are willing to comply with existing quarantine protocols, but please provide us with a final official report, not just a sweeping and generic statement which we can neither verify or countercheck," Omar said.
The election officer insisted voter registration will proceed, despite the mayor's order.
"We at Comelec are duty-bound to conduct voter registration even in the middle of this pandemic… I have no option but to comply with this Comelec en banc guideline, notwithstanding your office’s issuance," Omar told Macapodi.
According to election lawyer Emil Marañon, former chief of staff of late Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes, the incident in Malabang is the "first case of a pandemic protocol being weaponized by a politician."
"This is the first case of a pandemic protocol being weaponized by a politician. Hope this can be studied thoroughly," he said.
ABS-CBN News sought the comment of Comelec central office but it has yet to respond.
Comelec allows voter registration in areas under MGCQ, GCQ, and just this Wednesday, even in those under modified enhanced community quarantine.
Voter registration ends on Sept. 30.