Supreme Court upholds ‘No Bio, No Boto’ policy
The Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday dismissed for a lack of merit a petition against the “No Bio, No Boto” policy of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the May 9, 2016 elections.
The petition assailing the policy was filed by Kabataan party-list Rep. James Mark Terry Ridon and several others, mostly youth and student leaders.
The ruling was announced by SC spokesman Theodore Te.
“Wherefore, the petition is dismissed due to lack of merit. The temporary restraining order issued by this Court on December 1, 2015 is consequently dissolved. So ordered,” Te said as he read the dispositive portion of the ruling, which was penned by Justice Estela Perlas-Bernabe.
Comelec data show a total of 3,059,601 registered voters remained without biometrics as of September 30 — the registration deadline set by the poll body — and thus stand to lose their right to vote.
The Comelec lauded the decision.
Its chairman, Andres Bautista, said they are happy with the ruling, noting that the High Court considered their position in implementing provisions of Republic Act (RA) 10367 or the biometrics law.
“We are, of course, very pleased that the SC saw it our way. This will enable us to proceed with the finalization of the list of voters and project of precincts,” he noted in a text message.
Malacanang also welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision.
“We note the resolution of the Supreme Court dismissing the petition filed against the Comelec’s ‘No Bio No Boto’ policy,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said in a statement.
Coloma added that it is now up to the Comelec “to ensure that preparations for the holding of the May 2016 elections are in place in accordance with its timetable.”
“We leave it to the Comelec’s best judgment, as an independent constitutional body, on how to proceed in the light of the Supreme Court ruling,” he said.
Malacañang earlier rejected the possibility of postponing the elections, citing the constitutional requirement of holding the polls on the second Monday of May.
Ridon described the SC’s decision as puzzling, considering that the court earlier ruled to grant their petition for a temporary restraining order.
“The facts and law of the case had not changed in two weeks. It is unfortunate that the exaggerated doomsday scenario foisted by the Comelec had worked on the Supreme Court,” he said.
The petitioners, in contesting the legality of the deactivation of the registration of voters without biometrics, have asked the SC to enjoin the implementation of the provisions of RA 10367 or the Mandatory Biometrics Law and nullify Comelec Resolutions 9721, 9863 and 10013, which are all related to the deactivation of voter registration records in the May 9, 2016 national and local elections.
The petitioners noted that despite the Comelec’s “No Bio, No Boto” campaign, official data from the poll body showed that only 3,599,906 registered voters have undergone the mandatory biometrics validation procedure as of September 30.
In disposing of the constitutional challenge to RA 7 and the Comelec resolutions, the SC distinguished between the concept of “qualification” as far as suffrage is concerned and the concept of “registration” where the latter is jurisprudentially regarded as only the means by which a person’s qualifications to vote is determined.
Registering is only one step toward voting, and it is not one of the elements that makes the citizen a qualified voter.
“Thus, unless it is shown that a registration requirement rises to the level of a literacy, property or other substantive requirement as contemplated by the framers of the Constitution–that is, one which propagates a socioeconomic standard [that]is bereft of any rational basis to a person’s ability to intelligently cast his vote and to further the public good–the same cannot be struck down as unconstitutional, as in this case,” the ruling read.
The SC also ruled that contrary to petitioner’s argument, the regulation passes the “strict scrutiny” test.
Under this standard, it said, the government’s interest must be compelling, not merely substantial, and there must be no other less restrictive means to achieve that interest.
The SC sustained the regulation challenged on the ground of strict scrutiny, ruling that the objective of cleansing the national voter registry so as to eliminate electoral fraud and ensure that election results are reflective of the will of the electorate constitute a compelling state interest.
As for the absence of less restrictive means to achieve this interest, it noted, the regulation is the least restrictive means as it is a manner of updating registration for those already registered under RA 8189 through technology.
The High Court said the regulation was narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling state interest of establishing a clean, complete, permanent and updated list of voters, and was demonstrably the least restrictive means to promote that interest.
Congressional leaders were displeased with the decision, saying it could alter results of the 2016 elections.
House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan City (Metro Manila) and 1-BAP party list Rep. Silvestre Bello 3rd gave the heads up as a result of the SC decision upholding the Comelec policy of No Bio, No Boto.
“Not all of the 50 million registered voters will be casting their vote, so that number [2.4 million] is huge. The Comelec should just set aside one day to get an additional one million [voters to register their biometrics data]. As it is, the figure [of voters to be disenfranchised]is too big,” Zamora, who served as Executive Secretary during the Estrada administration, told reporters in a chance interview.
“I don’t agree with that [Supreme Court decision]. That would exclude 2.4 million voters–a number that could affect the results of the presidential elections,” Bello said.
Zamora cited victories, including those races for high-ranking national posts, which are decided by fewer than a million votes.
In the 2010 elections, then Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay beat then-Sen. Manuel Roxas 2nd in the vice presidential race by at least 700,000 votes.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE, LLANESCA T. PANTI AND PNA