Pandemic or not, 2022 polls should push through

The still rising number of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) infections may be a perfect excuse to call for resetting the date of the May 9, 2022 elections but the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has consistently warned against it.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez has repeatedly said the poll body has long started preparing for the conduct of the upcoming national and local elections, taking the pandemic into consideration.

Jimenez's post on Twitter last Friday indicates the pressures as well as the growing challenges in ensuring that next year's balloting would be peaceful, orderly and credible.

"The granular lockdown concept should not be used to prevent people from voting or to force [a] failure of elections," Jimenez tweeted. "The 2022 national and local elections won't be postponed or canceled," he said in another tweet. "There is no way of framing or asking that question that will make it reasonable or give you a different response."

In September 2020, the idea of resetting the 2022 elections became an issue after Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo asked the Comelec to "consider" proposing a postponement, noting that businessmen and old people in his district have expressed fears of going to the polling precincts to cast their vote because they might get infected.

"No matter how prepared we are, it will cause a serious dent on our health situation," said Arroyo, the son of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

He had wanted the Comelec to initiate the proposal, "and not from members of Congress... because if it comes from us, then people might think we have motives to extend our term."

When Arroyo raised the issue during House committee deliberations on the proposed 2022 budget of the Comelec, Chairman Sheriff Abas argued that the conduct of the elections is a constitutional mandate but postponing the balloting is at the discretion of the president and Congress.

Article VII, Section 4 of the Constitution provides: "Unless otherwise provided by law, the regular election for president and vice president shall be held on the second Monday of May."

The phrase "unless provided by law" means Congress may pass a law setting another date for the election of the president and vice president. However, postponing the May 9, 2022 elections at this time will be problematic considering other provisions in the Constitution that will be affected, such as those pertaining to term limits, succession, and the election for other national and local positions.

It is unclear how long the postponement can be. The Constitution also does not provide for a holdover president. A pandemic is not among the circumstances mentioned for succession.

While the Comelec can reset the date for local elections under Section 5 of the Omnibus Election Code by a vote of four of the en banc's seven members, the grounds for postponement are specified: violence, terrorism, loss or destruction of election paraphernalia or records, force majeure and other analogous causes.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been with us for a year and a half now; the Comelec is expected to have prepared for it with the pandemic situation in mind.

Based on the long lines of voter registrants - mostly those belonging to the Generation Y or the so-called millennials, or those born from 1981 to 1996, and the Gen Z, called zoomers or those born in the mid-1990s onward - in the Comelec offices and satellite registration sites in shopping malls, there is heightened interest in participating in next year's elections.

The heavy turnout of registrants indicates dissatisfaction with how the national and local government leaders have been addressing the COVID-related issues and problems, giving some politicians an excuse to disrupt preparations for the 2022 polls so they can stay in power longer.

Those aspiring to run in next year's elections will be filing their certificates of candidacy from Oct. 1 to 8. While they are not yet considered as candidates until the campaign period, we should start watching out for what they say and do, and review their track record so that when election day comes, we can say that we have wisely exercised our voting obligation.

Whoever floats the idea of postponing the election or disrupting the preparations from hereon should be rejected. Pandemic or not, Filipino voters should be allowed to cast their vote unhampered.

For months now, the Comelec has been considering a number of options, such as voting by schedule, to avoid super-spreader events on election day. These options must already be in place in the registration sites where people begin to assemble as early as 3 a.m.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.

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