Comelec OKs 'random sampling' of ballots printed during observer 'blackout'

Jauhn Etienne Villaruel, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 15 2022 09:00 PM | Updated as of Mar 16 2022 06:06 PM

Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan (right) and commissioner George Garcia inspect the work at the assembly line of Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) at their warehouse in Sta Rosa Laguna on March 14, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News
Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Chairman Saidamen Pangarungan (right) and commissioner George Garcia inspect the work at the assembly line of Vote Counting Machines (VCMs) at their warehouse in Sta Rosa Laguna on March 14, 2022. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

MANILA (UPDATE) — In an unprecedented move, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) vowed Tuesday to allow "random sampling" of ballots printed during the period when stakeholders were refused access in the printing facility due to the omicron surge earlier this year.

"Dun sa panawagan ng ilang sektor, ng ilang abogado na sana daw magkaroon ng random sampling ng balota, pagbibigyan po 'yun ng Comelec," said newly appointed commissioner George Garcia. 

(The appeal of some sectors, some lawyers for a random sampling of ballots, that will be grated by the Comelec.) 

Garcia said parties should at least write to Comelec so the 7-man en banc can formally tackle the move.

"Kung pwede may proper na sulat man lang para kung mapapadala sa amin, kahit ngayong araw, bukas (Wednesday) tatalakayin po namin sa en banc. But definitely at this point ay may instruction na ang ating chairman," Garcia said, referring to fellow new appointee, Comelec chairman Saidamen Pangarungan. 

(Preferably, there should be a letter so that if it sent to us today or tomorrow, we will discuss it at the en banc. But, definitely, our chairman has issued instructions.) 

Since last week, several election watchdogs and camps have called out Comelec's restrictions on observers as the poll body prepares for the May 9 elections. 

According to election lawyer Romulo Macalintal from the camp of presidential candidate Leni Robredo, Comelec committed "unforgivable disservice to the electorate" when it started printing ballots without notice to stakeholders.

"Printing this sensitive official document... without the presence of the parties and candidates' watchers as mandated by the law is a clear violation of their constitutional rights to due process," Macalintal said. 

Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, defending Comelec, explained that the surge of COVID-19 driven by the omicron variant pushed them to restrict access in the printing facility. 

With the decline in coronavirus infections, he said Comelec would be more transparent in its preparations for the May 9 elections. 

Casquejo also said parties may request CCTV footage during the time that access was restricted.

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