By Jauhn Etienne Villaruel | ABS-CBN News
MANILA — Some lawmakers on Thursday raised concerns on the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) "new normal" manual, which would govern activities related to the May 2022 elections, the first under a pandemic.
Representatives of Comelec presented before the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms their guidelines for election activities, such as the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) next month, campaign rallies, and the voting day itself.
One of the provisions lawmakers found problematic is the power granted to local government units (LGU) to allow political activities.
The manual states: "Subject to the requirements of local ordinances on the issuance of permits, any political party or any candidate, individually or jointly with other aspirants, may hold peaceful political meetings, rallies or other similar activities during the campaign period."
Iloilo Rep. Lorenz Defensor said this blanket authority of the LGU can cause confusion if the Comelec would not impose its own standard.
"There is a provision here that states "subject to the local ordinances of LGUs." And we cannot control what will be their standard. Will it be a common guideline? Magulo po 'yan (That would be chaotic)," said Defensor.
Caloocan Rep. Edgar Erice said the provision is prone to be politicized by sitting local officials, especially if they are also candidates for the 2022 elections.
"'Yung mga local officials karamihan dyan kandidato rin… Gagawa sila ng mga guidelines na ma-disadvantage 'yung opponents nila kaya dapat di galing sa local officials," he said.
(The local officials, most of them will also run in the elections… they will make guidelines to the disadvantage of their opponents so these guidelines shouldn't come from local officials.)
Erice added Comelec must set specific rules to avoid this.
"Kapag naging lenient kayo, maraming gulo ang mangyayari… Hindi pwede talagang walang specific na susundin ang lahat," Erice said.
Meanwhile, Negros Occidental Rep. Kiko Benitez questioned Comelec's decision to limit to just 10 percent of venue capacity in-person campaign rallies, when current IATF guidelines allow up to 30 percent.
Comelec Commissioner Antonio Kho explained that the manual was prepared with the "worst case scenario" in mind.
"When we approached this in crafting this manual, we're looking at the worst case scenario. Napaka-fluid kasi ng COVID situation," he said.
Erice requested to Comelec that political parties be provided a copy of the manual and be allowed to comment to avoid legal challenges during its implementation.
"Para fair don sa political parties and other stakeholders para makapag-comment sila… Makikita dito kung ano 'yung mga problematic provisions," he asked.
(To be fair to political parties and other stakeholders, so they could comment… You see here the problematic provisions.)
Kho said he will bring up the suggestion to the Comelec en banc.
The commissioner added that the manual is a "work in progress."
"Na-approve na po ito ng en banc. We plan to release a final copy before the end of September… This is a work in progress because we anticipate some changes along the way. We don't know if the pandemic will worsen… It can adjust," said Kho.
Meanwhile, the Comelec said its "time and motion study" or the simulation of voting day is scheduled on Sept. 19.
The time and motion study is crucial for Comelec to set rules on voting day, where 60 million are expected to participate while following health and safety protocols to prevent the virus spread.