MANILA— The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Tuesday it plans to ban physical interactions between politicians and the public and food distributions during political rallies on the runup to the 2022 national elections as the COVID-19 threat persists.
In a forum hosted by the House of Representatives Committee on People's Participation, Comelec Spokesman James Jimenez said that his commission would be releasing guidelines on the safe conduct of political rallies as the elections would be held with the virus threat still around.
“Kung dati one of the high points of a political rally would be distributing food for example to the people who are attending, we will not be allowing food to be served at mass gatherings anymore," Jimenez explained.
A politician will also be prohibited from having usual physical interactions with voters, such as shaking of hands and kissing babies, during their electoral campaigns.
"PDA (public display of affection) used to be part of the whole idea of campaigning... You're not gonna be able to do that anymore. Because that will certainly be very risky behavior. And yes, that (shaking hands, kissing babies) qualifies as PDA and that will have to be strictly regulated," he pointed out.
He said that while "mass gatherings cannot be banned outright," the commission may "restrict them" by regulating permits granted for political activities.
The Comelec will also come up with guidelines regarding the safety of media when it comes to covering these events, as mass gatherings could possibly happen during the campaigns.
Debates of presidential candidates will still happen but will be done differently next year due to the health crisis, Jimenez said.
"One of the things you'll notice when you see videos of mass gatherings that are happening now prior to even the campaign period, you'll see the reporters and the people shooting the footage are engaged in risky behavior themselves so this will have to be amended as well.”
San Jose del Monte Rep. Rida Robes, who chairs the House committee, explained that the forum is important to add perspective on how the campaigns, as well as the elections, would happen next year amid the COVID-19 threat.
“Ang pandemya ng COVID-19 ang nagbabanta na malimitahan ang pakikialam ng mga mamamayan sa darating na halalan. Dahil dito, naisip ng Committee on People’s Participation na pag-usapan ang mga limitasyon at oportunidad sa pakikilahok ng mga tao sa darating na halalan,” she said.
(The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to limit people's participation in the coming elections. Because of this, the committee on People's participation thought of discussing the limits to and opportunities for people to take part in the elections.)
Jimenez last week said they are "on track" to reach the minimum 61 million total registered voters for the upcoming polls with some 2 months remaining for the sign-up period.
The Comelec has so far recorded 4.3 million newly registered voters, with the commission noting that there is a possibility of adding another million until the end of September.
The commission has transitioned the registration campaign to digital due to the pandemic.
— RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News