The Commission on Elections on Wednesday declared itself ready for the midterm elections in May.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the poll body said it is “90 percent prepared” for the May 13 national and local elections scheduled, despite the recent series of earthquakes that hit the country.
Jimenez described Comelec 90 percent ready for the poll exercise, adding that the poll body would have been 95 percent prepared if not for the earthquakes.
He added that the remaining 10 percent will be the deployment of about 85,000 machines that will be used for the automated elections.
Jimenez said they are now in the process of analyzing the readiness of each facility assigned to hold the elections, especially in places damaged by the earthquakes.
But so far, there have been no recommendations yet for changes of polling centers due to the earthquake, he added.
The poll body is set to start the shipping of the ballots to be used on election day, especially to far-flung areas.
Some 18,000 positions are up for grabs in the upcoming polls.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has been asked to stop the Comelec from implementing its resolution banning the taking of photos during the conduct of the elections on May 13.
In a 26-page petition, several groups led by poll watchdog Automated Election System Watch asked the SC to nullify the rule prohibiting the use of digital cameras and cellular phones in polling precincts under the recent General Instructions issued by the poll body based on its Resolution No. 10088 issued for the 2016 polls.
The petitioners argued that the poll body committed grave abuse of discretion in issuing the rule that “has a chilling effect of hanging a Damocles sword on the head of every watcher and voter by imposing a sweeping ban against digital cameras and cellular phones without specifying the start time and end time of the ban.”
According to them, the rule is against the Automated Election Law, which allows political parties, candidates or citizen's arms to examine and test the polling machines to make sure that the system is operating properly.
They said the Comelec, in its previous General Instructions, has allowed taking of photographs of the proceedings and incidents provided that the secrecy and sanctity of votes are protected.
They alleged that the rule “suppresses the right of watchers and members of the public to take photographs of the proceedings and incidents pursuant to the Omnibus Election Code and its amendments.”
With these arguments, petitioners asked the SC to order the Comelec to limit the ban until the closing of voting hours only and allow taking of photos to audit the totality of votes inside the precincts.
Besides voiding the Comelec’s rule on camera use during the voting, petitioners also asked the SC to compel the poll body to implement the High Court’s ruling on the voter verified paper audit trail (VVPAT), which empowers voters to verify the input of their votes.
“Respondent Comelec even made matters worse by redesigning the VVPAT so that respondent Smartmatic becomes the auditor of the VVPAT which is the reverse of the Supreme Court ruling empowering voters to audit the VVPAT and not the other way around,” read the petition.
“Neither the watchers nor the voters not the members of the public have any plain, speedy, adequate remedy in the ordinary courts of law as respondent Comelec has proven and continues to prove its decade-long fanatical obsession for favouring respondent Smartmatic,” it added.
AES Watch was joined by poll watchdog groups Mata Sa Balota, Citizens’ Crime Watch, One Vote One Hope as religious groups Buklod Pamilya, Capitol Christian Leadership, Latter Rain Harvest Ministries and Upper Room Brethren Church in filing the petition.
Last week, the groups filed a similar petition with the Comelec.
The petition was filed while the SC is on decision-writing recess. The Court may tackle the case when it holds a special session on May 3 for the results of the 2018 Bar exams.
In other developments, Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) campaign manager and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte has instructed their “weak candidates” to intensify their campaigning in order to advance their senatorial bid.
“That’s Impossible! In reality, twelve is impossible! But we are hopeful to get the majority,” said Duterte.
The Davao mayor said she reminded their weak senatorial candidates to return to the areas where there are many voters. She also told those lagging behind the surveys to campaign harder.
“We really have seen that those with TV ads have advantage. So we told them to get TV ads,” said Duterte. She said these senatoriables can also go back to the areas where they are weak.
“Kung puwede, isa-isahin nila yung mga local partners ng HNP kung meron pa silang kaklilala. Every vote counts,” she said.
“They can also get in touch with HNP partners in the local level. Every vote counts,” she added.
The president’s daughter said she is happy that the HNP is on the last stretch of its campaign across the nation.
After campaign sorties in Palawan; Jolo, Sulu, and Tawi-tawi this week and Camiguin next week, she can now take a break, rest and relax.
Pressed if there’s pressure for her to run for president in 2022, the Davao mayor said this is not the right time to think about it.
“This is not correct time to think of running for a higher position because it (next presidential election) is still far and many things can still happen. Not yet proper. It is not the time to sit down and think about the pros and cons.”
Still, she won’t give a categorical response if she is closing her door on the presidency.
“I cannot answer that right now because my plan is to be given an opportunity to finish my full three terms as mayor. I can still do many things for Davao City,” she said.
“As I have been saying, I cannot tell what will happen next. We don’t know what will happen to our life, just like we do not know when are we going to die,” she added.
The president’s eldest daughter, a lawyer by profession, is being perceived by political observers as the strongest force to reckon with in the next presidential elections.
Asked if she is contemplating on leaving the HNP. Duterte replied, “pinag-iisipan lang, no decision yet. Sometimes, it’s just due to pressure, stress, exhaustion. I was thinking of calming down. I feel more relaxed being in Davao and not to come out of Davao City politics.”
Duterte, who is seeking her third and last term as Davao City mayor, said everybody in the HNP will rest after the elections.
For the HNP, she said the next general assembly will be on Feb 2020.
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