By Macon Ramos-Araneta and Maricel Cruz | Manila Standard
“Don’t make the 2022 elections COVID-19 super spreader,” said Senator Risa Hontiveros as she sought an increase in the Commission on Election’s budget to prepare for the 2022 presidential elections.
She said the increase was necessary in light of the health adjustments necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We do not know when there will be [COVID-19) vaccines so the budget is still a health concern leading up to 2022.,” Hontiveros said.
“2021 will be our ‘transition year’ into the new normal. We want to encourage as many people as possible to still go out, register and exercise their democratic right to vote despite the extraordinary circumstances. We cannot allow COVID-19 to stand in the way of our democracy.”
Hontiveros made her statement even as a lawmaker on Thursday filed a bill that would allow senior citizens and people with disabilities to vote within one month before the actual poll schedule.
Rep. Ronnie Ong of filed House Bill No. 7868, otherwise known as the New Normal of Voting for Senior Citizens and PWDs Act of 2020, anticipating that the coronavirus pandemic would continue to pose health hazards to senior citizens and disabled people until the 2022 elections,
Ong said while the Comelec had allowed local and absentee voters abroad to cast their votes about two to eight weeks before election day, early voting was still not allowed for senior citizens and PWDs.
Hontiveros said senior citizens, other than people with disability, the most vulnerable populations to COVID-19, stood at 9.1 million or about 14 percent of the registered voters.
The proposed hike, Hontiveros said, would go to additional vote-counting machines to reduce the number of people allowed per cluster precinct.
She said this would make it easier for social distancing to be observed and ensure everyone would get to vote in a single day to avoid cheating and other anomalies.
“We have to find the safest and most efficient option to retain the integrity of our elections,” Hontilveros said.
She said a budget hike would also need appropriate accountability from the Comelec.
She said the Comelec’s budget must also take into consideration a transition to online registration for the rest of the registration period (January 2021-September 2021) as a safety precaution and to facilitate the opportunities for the young people to register.
Voters aged 18 to 30 years old stand at 33 percent as of the 2019 midterm elections.
She also said the Comelec should include in its plans the many Filipino Workers abroad who had returned home for good, most of them unemployed, who would need to register locally.
The Department of Foreign Affairs says it has facilitated around 208,000 repatriations and anticipates an additional 177,000.