By William Depasupil | The Manila Times
THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has vowed to use all the power within its means to ensure a violence-free polls in 2022 as voiced out earlier by President Rodrigo Duterte.
"The President's call for peaceful elections is a powerful reminder to all would-be candidates and their campaigns to reject violence," said Comelec spokesman James Jimenez on Saturday.
The commission, Jimenez stressed, shares the President's sentiment even as it warned candidates not to resort to violence or any unlawful means in order to win the elections.
Meanwhile, the Comelec has assured House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco to extend the voting registration period to prevent massive voter disenfranchisement.
Velasco said the poll body should take this important step. He added the Comelec should not allow the democratic process of election to be stalled by the pandemic.
"The right to vote in an election is one essential part of the democratic process, and the Comelec is duty-bound to make sure that all eligible voters are able to register and exercise their right of suffrage," he said in a statement on Saturday.
Military action to thwart election manipulation
Jimenez said the Comelec is working closely with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to ensure that the elections are free of violence.
"[I]n those instances where violent incidents threaten the integrity of the elections, the poll body has the authority to take such steps as may be necessary to address the situation, including but not limited to the imposition of Comelec control on specific parts of the country," Jimenez pointed out.
The President, in a speech on Friday, called for a peaceful conduct of the 2022 elections.
He warned as well against attempts to manipulate the election results, saying he would be forced to use the military to thwart them.
Under the law, the Comelec has the authority to deputize the PNP and the AFP to maintain peace and order during the five-month or 150-day election period.
The commission en banc has issued Resolution 10695, setting the election period from Jan. 9, 2022 to June 8, 2022. As prescribed by the commission, a gun ban will also be in effect during the five-month election period.
During said period, no person will be allowed to carry or transport firearms and other deadly weapons, unless authorized in writing by the Comelec.
Violation of said prohibited acts shall constitute an election offense as provided for in Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code.
Also prohibited are the use of security or bodyguards by candidates unless authorized in writing by the Comelec; organization or maintenance of reaction forces, strike forces or other similar forces; alteration of territory of a precinct or establishment of a new precinct; transfer or movement of officers and employees in the civil service; and suspension of elective local officials.
The campaign period for candidates in national position (president, vice president, senator and party-list groups) is from Feb. 8, 2022 to May 7, 2022, while candidates in local elective positions (member of House of Representatives, and regional, provincial, city and municipal officials) will begin only on March
25, 2022 but also ends on May 7, 2022.
Through viva voce voting, the legislative chamber approved on second reading Friday the amended version of House Bill (HB) 10261 fixing the last day of registration for voters in the 2022 national and local elections.
The bill which was filed by Velasco — along with Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano — states that the last day of registration for next year's polls "shall be 30 days after the effectivity" of the proposed measure.
Voter registration will end on September 30.
The original version of the bill sought to extend the voter registration deadline until Oct. 31, 2021.
"Extending the voter registration would allow our young people, as well as those who have been deactivated, to register and vote in next year's elections," Velasco said.
'Registering not an obstacle course'
Philippine Statistics Authority data showed that 73 million voters are qualified to participate in the 2022 polls.
As of last August 23, the poll body has reported that there are around 61 million registered voters in the country.
At the same time, Velasco prodded the Comelec to put in place measures that would make it easier for Filipinos to register and vote, such as fixing long lines at voter registration centers.
He said registering to vote should not be like an obstacle course for Filipinos, especially first-time voters, following complaints about the difficulty of the registration process.
Velasco lamented how some registrants endured long queues at the start of dawn, yet at times have not been accommodated.
"Why do we have to make it so hard for people to register to vote? We urge the Comelec to make voting free, fair and easy," he said.
The House chief said it is only proper to extend the voter registration deadline to make up for the time lost due to the pandemic.
According to Velasco, the six-month suspension of voter registration during the height of the pandemic in 2020 prevented a lot of Filipinos from taking the crucial first step in participating in the May 2022 polls.
Velasco noted that registrations were suspended further this year as various parts of the country were placed under different community quarantine classifications.
"Let's give [to] registrants the time lost when they weren't able to register. At least give them an additional month so that they could participate in the coming national elections," he added.
WITH LEA DEVIO