WHY, and how could, the august justices of the Supreme Court bear to commit the injustice?
We condemn in the strongest possible terms the decision of the Supremes on Wednesday to lift its temporary restraining order against Comelec’s “no bio, no boto” registration scheme, a move that arbitrarily stripped the right to vote from more than three million Filipino citizens.
The part of the decision that was most egregious was the high court’s reasoning that the “no bio, no boto” scheme passed the so-called “strict scrutiny” test, meaning that the interest of the government in imposing it was deemed to be “compelling,” that interest being the maintenance of updated, correct voting lists for the purposes of avoiding fraud and ensuring that election results properly reflect the will of the people.
But “strict scrutiny” also requires that “no less restrictive means” are available to achieve the “compelling” interest. The Comelec scheme completely fails on this point.
Comelec’s limited resources (or perhaps limited ambition) prevented the poll body from conducting its “no bio, no boto” registration procedures in a way that was conveniently accessible to all voters, and prevented the poll body from extending the registration deadline beyond this past September 30, a ridiculously short time window given that the elections would be held more than eight months later than that date.
Thus, a “less restrictive” means is most certainly available – that being Comelec carrying out its mandated tasks efficiently, processing registrations in a reasonably convenient way (such as at the barangay level), and not trying to play the entire country for fools (as they did successfully with the Supreme Court justices) by attempting to convince us that it would take more than eight full months to manage a single set of data, albeit a large one.
A far better solution, really the only acceptable one, would have been to compel the Comelec to correct the shortcomings in their program, carrying out registration in more areas, and extending the registration period to a reasonable deadline. In most countries, even our Southeast Asian neighbors who face many of the same technical and bureaucratic challenges the Philippines does, registration for the next election is allowed up to a month or two before the vote. There is no “compelling” reason why this cannot be so here, with the resources currently available to the Comelec.
We strongly believe that while it is very important to maintain proper records of voters, the legal inclusion of as many eligible voters as possible is and always will be absolutely more “compelling” than any government interest. In allowing the Comelec to proceed, the Supreme Court has done nothing more or less than to strip the right to vote from millions of Filipinos, all for the sake of endorsing the inefficient work and poor planning of the Comelec.
The justices of the Supreme Court, while they have many times in the past couple years admirably protected the interests of the people, utterly failed them this time, and deserve our censure.