By Christia Marie Ramos | Inquirer.net
MANILA, Philippines — Two senators on Thursday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to add more polling precincts for the 2022 elections as they cast doubts that voting can be done in just a day considering the health protocols that will be enforced.
“I don’t think na makakaya na iboto ng one day yung lahat na yun pagka ganyang may safety protocol, mahirap yan, I think magkakagulo sa presinto. Unless damihan natin yung mga precinct places. Otherwise magkakagulo yan, magkahawahan yan,” Senator Cynthia Villar said during a Senate hearing of the electoral reforms committee.
(I don’t think voting can be completed in just one day considering the safety protocols we have to comply with, that will be a challenge. I think commotion inside precincts is possible. Unless there would be more precinct places. Otherwise, there would be chaos, the transmission of the virus.)
“Hindi talaga magagawa na with this kind of protocols na matapos yung election ng the same day, dapat yata damihan niyo yung presinto. Kasi tingin ko if we follow the protocol, magkakagulo kasi mas matagal because of the health protocol, hindi makakaboto mga tao” she added.
(Finishing the elections in just one day can’t be done with the protocols, you should add more precincts. If we follow the protocols, there would be chaos because it would take too long because of the health protocol, people won’t get to vote.)
Senator Imee Marcos, the chairperson of the Senate electoral reforms committee, agrees with Villar.
“Ayaw nga ng Comelec at marami sa atin na mag-overnight pa or mag dalawa o tatlong araw kasi mas lalong nakakatakot na naman yung delay,” Marcos said.
(The Comelec and many of us do not want the elections to last overnight or two to three days because it would be scary if there would be delays.)
While Comelec Deputy Executive Director Teopisto Elnas Jr sees the need for more voting precincts, he pointed out that there are only around 97,000 vote-counting machines (VCMs) available.
Villar was quick to suggest buying additional VCMs.
“May time pa namang bumili kaysa ma-postpone ang election [There’s still time to procure unless you want the elections to be postponed],” she added.
The senator then recalled her experience as a poll watcher when her father was running for mayor and how challenging it was to conduct elections even without the limitations of the pandemic.
“Ang hirap hirap ng eleksyon sa presinto. Tapos may health protocol pa [ngayon], e ‘di lalong magkakagulo. Dapat damihan niyo na lang ang election precincts at election places para wag magkagulo, kaso magkakagulo yan,” she added.
(Elections in the precincts are very challenging. And then you have these health protocols now, it would make it more chaotic. You should add more election precincts or else it would be chaotic.)
Earlier, the Comelec said it is eyeing longer election hours for next year’s polls. The number of voters per cluster precinct will also be reduced to easily implement safety protocols for COVID-19.
However, Education Undersecretary Alain Pascua said the Department of Education (DepEd) has submitted a proposal to Comelec for the poll body to allow the shifting of teachers during the day of the elections.
“During the previous elections we have observed and our public school teachers have reported that they usually wake up and start the day at 4 a.m., some even earlier. Then they finish at night at about 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., masyado nang overstretched yung number of hours [the number of hours is overstretched],” Pascua told the Senate committee.
“We have submitted some proposals to Comelec, sabi nga namin baka pwedeng two shifts para mas maayos ang trabaho ng mga teacher [we asked if it would be alright to have two shifts so that teachers can work more efficiently],” he added.
But Marcos pointed out that some election officers have concerns over having two shifts during the elections.
“Many election officers have been complaining that two shifts will become unmanageable and impossible to secure sa [during the] turnover,” she said.
Villar then reiterated her suggestion to have more places where voters can cast their votes.
Elnas said he will raise the concerns of the senators to the Comelec steering committee.
“Kasi kailangan ng policy ‘yan and of course yung process ng pagbili for additional VCMs and of course yung process ng bidding and the availability of funds,” he added.
(Because that is a policy issue and of course the process of buying the VCMs and the bidding as well as the availability of funds.)
“It’s good that we’re talking about it as early as today so we can do something about it,” Villar added.