By Leslie Aquino | Manila Bulletin
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) continues to prepare for the May, 2022 national and local polls, even if hindered by the coronavirus 2019 pandemic.
The voter registration period for the May, 2022 polls began on January 20, 2020.
Due to the threat of the COVID-19, the Comelec suspended voter registration in all offices nationwide in March ahead of the imposition of community quarantine on the island of Luzon.
The suspension was extended several times due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country and the extension of the enhanced community quarantine.
Comelec field personnel used the time of the suspension to put in place anti-COVID-19 measures in relation to the conduct of the registration of voters once it resumes.
Voter registration finally resumed on September 1 except in areas under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) or Modified ECQ.
The number of applicants in the first few days of the voter registration in the National Capital Region, however, was low.
Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said the COVID-19 pandemic may have contributed to this.
He said people are probably afraid to go out because of COVID, their call to make appointments before heading to voter registration and their health protocols such as the ‘no face mask, no face shield, no entry’ policy may have also contributed.
But the poll official said they expect the number to still increase.
4 to 7 million voters expected
The Comelec expects 4 to 7 million voters will register for the upcoming polls.
Jimenez said based on their estimate, of the figure about 4 million are newly eligible voters or those who have turned 18 or will be turning 18 in time for the 2022 elections.
During the May 2019 midterm polls, there were 61,843,771 registered voters nationwide, 22,083,529 of them are young voters.
Data from the poll body showed that there are 863,309 applications received from September 1 to December 11.
Calabarzon had the most number of applicants with 129,653; followed by Central Luzon with 97,455 and the National Capital Region with 84,497.
Online voter registration thru iRehistro
In November, the poll body announced that voter applicants may now accomplish the registration form online via their online facility iRehistro.
However, the poll body reminded applicants that they still need to personally go to the local Comelec office for the biometrics (photograph, fingerprints and signature) data capture to complete the filing process.
The Comelec explained that the online facility only attempts to facilitate the process of accomplishment of the application form and does not automatically mean approval of one’s application as the Election Registration Board (ERB) still has to approve their application.
The online registration facility is also made available to qualified overseas Filipino voters.
Voter registration will run until September 30, 2021.
Radyo COMELEC launched
As a means to be able to continue performing its mandate to educate voters, the Comelec also launched this year Radyo COMELEC.
Radyo Comelec is a weekly webcast delivering election related news, information, and voter education content to the general public.
According to Jimenez, Radyo COMELEC is a “tangible manifestation of the Comelec’s new normal.”
Since the country is set to use the old vote counting machines (VCMs) from Smartmatic in the next polls, the Comelec allocated more than P660 million for its refurbishment with consumables.
In its Invitation to Bid, the commission said all the VCMs must be delivered at the Comelec warehouse in Sta. Rosa, Laguna in four tranches with the 1st batch of 5,000 refurbished VCMs on May 1, 2021; 2nd batch of 25,000 VCMs on July 30, 2021; 3rd batch of 25,000 VCMs on August 31, 2021; and the 4th batch of 42,345 VCMs on September 30, 2021.
The Pre-Bid Conference was held on November 25 and the Opening of Bids on December 11.
Comelec Advisory Council reconstituted
The Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) has also been reconstituted for the upcoming polls.
The advisory body is composed of nine members, who are required under the law to be registered voters and who are of known independence, competence, and probity.
The de facto chairman of the council is the current secretary of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), assisted by members from the academe, non-government electoral reform organizations, ICT professional organizations and select government agencies.
The principal function of the CAC, as mandated by the Automated Election Law or Republic Act No. 9369, is to “recommend the most appropriate, secure, applicable and cost-effective technology to be applied in the automated election system (AES).”
This, aside from providing advice and assistance on matters affecting the implementation of the AES.
The Comelec Office for Overseas Voting (OFOV) also hosted a series of online consultative meetings this December to present to its external stakeholders the online voting solutions of four different election systems providers for possible use in future polls.
The poll body identified the four companies as the following: Dominion Voting Systems, Indra, Smartmatic International, and Voatz.
Jimenez said the purpose of the consultation is to be able to gather enough information on online voting that can be presented to Congress for its consideration.
Last May, the poll body said that it was also planning to test run the mobile voting application for possible use in the future.
Based on Section 28 of Republic Act No. 10590 “the Commission may explore other more efficient, reliable, and secure modes or systems, ensuring the secrecy and sanctity of the entire process, whether paper-based, electronic-based, or internet-based technology or such other latest technology available, for onsite and remote registration and elections and submit reports and/or recommendations to the Joint Oversight Congressional Committee.”
2 new Commissioners appointed
Another highlight in the poll body this year is the appointment of Michael Peloton and Aimee Ampoloquio as new commissioners.
Commissioners Louie Guia and Al Parreno retired in February after completing their seven-year terms. Their retirement left the Commission en Banc with only five members, instead of seven.
In September, the Comelec announced President Duterte’s nomination of Peloton as commissioner. Two months after, the President also nominated Ampoloquio.
The poll body welcomed their nominations especially since they have already started their preparations for the upcoming polls.
Ampoloquio already took her oath of office as ad interim Commissioner of the Comelec on December 23.
An ad interim appointment is one made while Congress is in recess, and takes effect immediately. As an ad interim appointee, Commissioner Ampoloquio has the authority to immediately enter upon the discharge of her office and will do so come January 2021.
Her appointment, however, still requires the confirmation of the Commission on Appointments as mandated by the Constitution.
Peloton is also yet to be confirmed by the CA.