RESPONSIBLE individuals, especially the Comelec chairman, should stop painting a scenario of “No Election” (No El) just because the Supreme Court issued a TRO on the biometrics of voters. It is plain and simple, Comelec should not delete voters without biometrics. Yes, the TRO impacts on the preparation of the Voter’s List and the Book of Precincts but would the Comelec use biometrics at all in 2016?
Per Comelec, there are 3,059,601 registered voters without biometrics as of September 30 2015. The TRO was issued on the petition of several groups led by Kabataan party-list Rep. Terry Ridon that asked the high court to stop the implementation of the Comelec policy.The petitioners argued that the Comelec’s campaign violates the Constitution as it adds a substantive requirement for Filipinos to be able to exercise their right of suffrage.
The Constitution under Article 5 Section 1 states, “suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.
The Comelec policy could lead to disenfranchisement of three million voters who were unable to have their biometrics taken, according to the petitioners. They also questioned the implementation of the law on mandatory biometrics voter registration under Republic Act 10367. A cursory review of the law shows that there is no provision that says that those without biometrics will be deleted from the Voter’s List. The law under Section 7 refers to deactivation and its states, “voters who fail to submit for validation on or before the last day of filing of application for registration for purposes of the May 2016 elections shall be deactivated pursuant to this Act.”
The effect is that these names will be set aside and voters have the right to reactivate the same per Section 8 of the law, “those deactivated under the preceding section may apply for reactivation after the May 2016 elections following the procedure provided in Section 28 of Republic Act No. 8189.” So, if you received a letter from your local Comelec that says we are deleting your name from the Voter’s List, be aware that this cannot happen. What the law allows is to set aside the problematic entries but not to delete.
It is also unbelievable that Comelec loss the biometrics of other voters. After securing my own biometrics in 2009, I have not received my voter identification card but was able to exercise my right to vote in two election cycles. Last year, I received a letter from Comelec saying that my biometrics was corrupted. Hmmm, I do not understand how that happened and hence the letter said I should go to the local Comelec and get again my biometrics. I wanted to know what happened but Comelec had no answer. How many records were corrupted? At what cost? What happened? Comelec should be able to tell voters the reasons and present an honest accounting of the same.
But the bigger issue that Comelec should be transparent about its campaign of No Bio, No Boto, is whether biometrics will be used in the May 2016 because the money set aside to buy facial recognition machines and thumbmark readers have been realigned to add to the budget for the purchase of the new machines. That the biometrics will not be used and that it will just remain for purposes of determining the list of voters is contained in a resolution passed by Comelec. So why the rush when biometrics reading will not be switched on.
Yes the 3 million plus voters without biometrics might pollute the voter pool if the Supreme Court ruling is carried. That would mean 3 million plus would be an operators dream spread in the final tally. But not using biometrics also opens the result to a lot of flaws. Remember GIGO or Garbage In Garbage Out? All elections are greatly anchored on a good Voter’s List. Take away such list, and we end up with GIGO. Removing biometrics renders the list inutile and makes elections highly transactional.
A declaration of No El is not the way to go in an era of technological mash ups. There are ways to correct the system for 2016, ensuring that all who registered can actually vote. The word disenfranchisement is anathema to a living democracy where you want more voters involved. But doing a campaign for it and not using the biometrics data is destroying the very system that was designed by law to ensure no flying boto. Systems managers can fix the problem by creating two pools and who knows they can even capture the biometrics of those who have none by setting up a facility in polling centers to capture the same.
Indeed, the disenfranchised are the outcast and doing mall voting is a way to further the division. Aircon and glitzy surrounding offer much convenience to the upper and middle class but not to Classes D and E who have to dress up and travel a certain distance to exercise one’s right. The mall voting truly smacks at elitism at its core. Would that result to a GOTV ops for the middle class ensuring there are more voters coming from Classes A-C? But the whole voter pool is skewed to Classes D and E. The outcast of society remains outcast on election day.
And as has been pointed out time and time again, “for some reason, voters can be brainwashed, and they vote sometimes against their own best interests, let alone voting against the interests of people who need them, like people who are disenfranchised and people who are poor and so forth.” Elections are not perfect systems, contingencies matter but no elections hurt democracy and that’s a major cop out for any election administration body.