The pandemic and the right of suffrage

By Atty. Farah G. Decano



THE right of suffrage of qualified Filipinos, according to the Supreme Court in the case of GARCHITORENA V. CRESCINI, 39 PHIL. 258, refers to their sovereign authority to, through the ballot, choose their officials for definite and fixed periods, and to whom they entrust, for the time being, as their representatives, the exercise of the powers of government.

The Commission on Elections, if it has to honor this right of the citizens, must be able to plan ahead on how the people’s will may be expressed in an orderly 2022 elections especially so that the pandemic is not ending anytime soon. What with the snail-paced vaccination process and the continuous appearances of new virus variants, physical distancing will indubitably remain enforced next year.

The elections will definitely be a tedious process considering that the voters will have to cast their choices for President, Vice-President, 12 senators, representatives, governors, board members, mayors, councilors and party-list representatives. Most certainly, it would take an average voter around 7 minutes to accomplish a very long ballot and feed it in the machine. With crowd control and restriction policies probably still in place, then each precinct cannot accommodate voters as much as before at a given time.

The COMELEC must act swiftly and make its projections. Doing nothing will definitely result in voters being disenfranchised in the time of pandemic. Maintaining the usual electoral practices before the pandemic will either scare the voters away, or if they are brave enough to go to typically jam-packed precincts, they may not be able to cast their ballot due to failure to beat the cut-off time for voting.

Here are some of my humble suggestions in case the pandemic will still be around next year.  (1) the COMELEC should explore other possible areas as voting centers. We can no longer afford to have voters swarming the usual narrow precincts in public schools. We do not wish the elections become a super spreader event.  Perhaps, the COMELEC should consider transferring some precincts to large auditoriums, open fields and open parking spaces. (2) The senior citizens, who are prone to corona virus, should also be given a chance to express their voice next year by mailing their votes.  Marikina Representative Stella Quimbo filed a bill enabling the senior citizens to vote by mail at least a few weeks before the day of elections. This legislative measure is noble but safeguards must be in place so that the voters by mail will not be harassed or will not engage in vote-selling. (3) Voting time should be extended for a few hours more.

In voting wisely, one must be adequately informed. The citizenry must know who the candidates are, their qualifications and their platforms. Foreseeing the pandemic to be unresolved next year, the COMELEC could discourage voters from participating in the usual informative electoral activities such as rallies, caucuses and miting de avances.  House to house campaign may also be prohibited because of the potential crowd that this activity may draw.

Of course, to prohibit activities and movements is the easy way to prevent the spread of the virus. We cannot allow, however, the citizen’s right to information to be restricted especially when the information will form their choices for public officials.

We hope the pandemic will not do us more damage than it has already done to our health and economy. To prevent this, we hope the COMELEC has started making plans for what may be inevitable. Our future is at stake.

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