Elections should focus on people, not candidates - Comelec exec

Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia talks at the 9th Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). Inday Espina-Varona, ABS-CBN News

Poll body wrestles to address displaced people's right to vote


(First of a series)

MANILA - The plight of displaced peoples, the free flow of information, and the balance between free expression and irregular campaigning by candidates are among the challenges faced by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) as it grapples to put the focus of the 2016 polls on Filipino voters instead of political bets.

Comelec Commissioner Luie Guia, keynote speaker at the 9th Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said the poll body is experimenting with ways to allow displaced residents of conflict or disaster zones to exercise their right to vote.

Guia said a major problem is a basic law, the Omnibus Election Code of 1985, which remains rigid and inflexible even as internal migration patterns and practices have changed.

The old law, he said, viewed the government with mistrust.

"It did not leave to Comelec provision of security mechanism. Technology can now address the fraud anticipated that made the law so strict, but it still does not allow us to devise procedures to accommodate."

"We're trying to ask for your help to resolve the problem," Guia said.

In the last barangay polls, IDPs from the Zamboanga siege and super typhoon Yolanda were allowed to vote because the system was manual.

"But strictly, under the law, that was problematic," Guia said.

LUMAD CRISIS

Now, the Comelec is faced with thousands of displaced indigenous peoples across a wide swathe of Mindanao.

He said in field visits, many of the IDPs want to return home but fear attacks while others want to vote in their temporary camps.

In some areas, like Surigao del Sur and Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental, and areas of Bukidnon, the IDP numbers are substantial enough to swing polls, according to observers.

"We need to look at the numbers," Guia said. "We are trying to see how much we can stretch the law."

Asked if the Comelec would deputize the police instead of the military, feared as the coddler of paramilitary killers by many IDP communities, Guia said security councils composed of local officials and police and military officers would be in the best position to recommend solutions.

0Guia acknowledged that one of the main takeaways in the 2013 elections is, how neutral law enforcement agencies are crucial to clean, honest polls.

Guia, citing election monitors and watchdogs in Masbate and Abra, said: "In areas where nilagay ang perceived na matitino police directors in hotly contested areas, relative matino ang elections." (Polls were cleaner in hotly contested areas where officials perceived as upright were assigned.)

"Dapat katuwang talaga natin ang law enforcement agencies," the poll executive stressed.