Senate passes electoral reform measures

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.28
The Senate recently approved several bills that seek to improve Philippine elections. Approved on third and final reading was Senate Bill no. 1030, which seeks to require Comelec to capture voters' biometrics data: photograph, fingerprint, and signature. Capture of said data started more than 10 years ago, but since up to now there is no law requiring previously registered voters to have these data captured, an estimated 8 to 10 million voters still do not have said data stored in Comelec's database. When passed into law, the records of voters without biometrics data shall be deactivated. However, Senators clarified that for the purpose of the 2013 election, all voters without biometrics data captured will still be allowed to vote; they would need to go back to the Comelec though before the 2016 national elections. Registration of voters for the 2013 polls ended in October. Biometrics data capture is seen as a deterrent to flying voters; election watchdogs and other stakeholders have expressed that potential flying voters for the 2013 elections might come from the 8-10 million voters still without biometrics data.

Senate Bill No. 3287 was also approved, requiring the Comelec to conduct satellite or special registration, and designate special polling places for, persons with disabilities (PWDs) and senior citizens. The polling places "shall be located at the ground floor, preferably near the entrance of the building, and is free of any physical barriers and provided with necessary services, including assistive devices." The bill also allows Comelec to maintain existing precinct assignments, establish a separate precinct for PWDs and senior citizens, or combine them with other voters, for as long as the voting area is located on the ground floor of the assigned building. The Comelec shall likewise keep an updated record of PWDs and senior citizens who are duly registered to vote, indicating the type of disability of each and everyone, and the assistance they need.

Earlier in November, the Senate also approved a bill allowing members of the media, including their technical and support staff, to vote earlier than others starting in the 2013 polls, but only for national positions - president, vice president, senators, and party list representatives. The members of the media who wish to exercise this privilege would have to be accredited by the Comelec though, upon recommendation by the media outfits that employ them. They could also only vote on days that would be determined by the Comelec.

The Senate bills will undergo a bicameral conference committee with counterpart versions having already been approved by the House of Representatives.

One Senate bill that has not been finalized is the proposal to amend the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, that seeks to repeal Section 5 (d) of the law which states that an immigrant or a permanent resident must execute upon registration an affidavit prepared by the Comelec declaring that he or she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three years from approval of his or her registration. This particular provision has been cited by overseas Filipinos as a reason why they did not want to register to vote. The bill also proposes that there be alternative ways of voting that would make it easier for working Filipinos overseas to cast their votes instead of taking a leave of absence to be able to travel to the nearest embassy or consulate to vote.

The Comelec's proposed Php8.4-billion budget for the 2013 elections was also approved by the Senate Committee on Finance on November 12.

(Various news sources)