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Malaya - Electoral reforms suggested by senators

News & Interviews
10 February 2021

By Malaya

TWO senators have lately stood and taken the floor to tout some workable, practical ideas that if taken seriously by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), would benefit the people because more voters will have the chance to exercise their right to vote, even as the Comelec itself will be assisted in conducting free and credible elections next year.

The suggestions came from Sen. Franklin Drilon, minority leader, and Sen. Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Senate committee on local governments.

Drilon has exhorted the Comelec to maximize the use of its budget to ramp up voter registration, such as setting up more satellite voter registration venues, employing more IT people to conduct registration with supervision from the locality’s election officer, and purchasing more digital biometrics machines, fingerprint scanners and other equipment.

Drilon believes that that Comelec lacks office space, equipment and personnel to register thousands of new voters and transferees.

‘… most seafarers are at sea for six months, which is the usual duration of their contracts, and so it becomes almost impossible for them to vote.’

Tolentino, meanwhile, is concerned about the several thousands of Filipino seafarers who had to spend several months at sea making good at their jobs, but in the process, sacrificing their right to vote because of their physical distance from the nearest polling place. Tolentino noted that the current process allows seafarers around the world to vote by going to the nearest embassy or consular post during the 30-day voting period. He pointed out, however, that most seafarers are at sea for six months, which is the usual duration of their contracts, and so it becomes almost impossible for them to vote.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez agreed with Tolentino’s observation, stressing that the poll body is studying other ways to provide seafarers various avenues to cast their votes. He said the Comelec has not yet utilized any online voting technology to allow seafarers to vote while at sea, but this seems like a real possibility in the future.

As for Tolentino, a solution may be found by deputizing Filipino captains of Philippine-flagged vessels, which are considered part of the country’s territory under law law, to oversee the casting of ballots by Filipino seafarers under their authority while at sea.

It is well for the Comelec, which is an independent constitutional body, to consider the merits of the suggestions coming from the senators. If they find these ideas practical, workable and legal, it is best to prepare early for their implementation by issuing the proper en banc resolutions and other guidelines, as this election-crazy nation awaits the 2022 political exercise with intense anticipation.