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CNN Philippines : Risks flagged as Comelec studies voting for patients in quarantine centers

News & Interviews
7 September 2021

By Melissa Luz Lopez | CNN Philippines

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 7) — The Commission on Elections said it is looking for ways to let COVID-19 patients in quarantine centers vote in the May 2022 polls as the local outbreak rages on.

However, concerns have been raised against this proposal.

Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the poll body is “working on” voting protocols for COVID-positive Filipinos come May 9 that would be patterned after the special polling places in jails for persons deprived of liberty (PDLs).

“Meron tayong accommodation sa PDLs where we actually bring the ballots to the detention centers,” Jimenez told CNN Philippines in an interview last week. “If we can do it like that for the PDLs, I think the argument is it can be done for persons in quarantine.”

He added that on top of the face mask and face shield, election boards who will be designated for quarantine center voting will likely be made to wear full-body protective gear like coveralls and gloves.

Medical experts, however, said there are many health and security risks that come with this proposal.

Former Health Secretary Manuel Dayrit said physical voting for healthy adults is a “big challenge” in itself, much more this plan.

“If a person is in isolation because he is infected or in quarantine because he's a contact, then by definition they are hazards to public health,” Dayrit said in a phone interview. “Unless you can get the polling places where they are and they can vote where they are, then that might work but that's a huge logistical challenge.”

Another question raised was who will be deployed as election officers in isolation hubs and handle the ballots of these patients. The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition said it is very risky for their members to serve there compared to manning school-based precincts.

“Magkalapit lang kayo, ang chance mo 100% na na mahahawa ka… Siguradong hindi ligtas ang sinumang uupong electoral board doon sa presintong paggagawaan ng pagbobotohan na ‘yun,” said Olive De Guzman, vice chairperson of the Teachers' Dignity Coalition.

“Alam naman natin kasi di ba, nakakahawa eh… Ako personally, bakit ako papayag?,” she added.

[Translation: The moment you interact closely, there’s already a 100% chance that you can get infected… It really won’t be safe for anyone who will serve as electoral board in the precinct where that voting will be held. We all know it’s infectious. Personally, why will I agree to that?]

The Philippine Medical Association (PMA) suggested a different approach when the matter was discussed during a House of Representatives committee hearing last week.

“Perhaps it could be allowed that they vote similar to the voting system that is used for the OFWs (overseas Filipino workers). They will be given a ballot, they will fill it up in an envelope and then they will seal it, sign the envelope and sent to the Comelec and it will be picked up by a Comelec representative,” PMA’s Dr. Daniel Lising told lawmakers.

However, Dayrit said the task of administering the polls cannot just be passed on to medical frontliners in isolation facilities.

“You'll have to deputize health workers to do a job that they don't normally do, so you could be open to all of the legal questions particularly if there are suspicions of irregularities,” Dayrit said. “You'll be creating problems for yourself.”

The former Health chief added that online voting is ideally the safest way, but that's not an option for Comelec so far.

The poll body is still finalizing voting day guidelines eight months before May 9.