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Election law must prevail over culture, says Abalos

By Tarra Quismundo
Inquirer
First Posted 07:57:00 05/29/2007

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2007, Politics, Elections

MANILA, Philippines -- Amid reports that minors were able to vote in Maguindanao province, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said Monday the law must prevail over cultural practices in election matters.

Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. said individuals under 18 who might be allowed by their culture to vote were still covered by the law fixing the minimum voting age at 18.

?They may have their culture different from us but their culture should come within the law,? Abalos said. ?Our laws say you have to be 18, even among Muslims.?

Reports from Maguindanao said that some people as young as 16 were able to vote in the recent elections. Some Muslim officials said this was allowed under Sharia law.

Abalos conceded that it was difficult to check the actual age of young voters showing up in precincts in Maguindanao as the province lacked a birth registry.

?Considering that we have no records of births there, we can never say (how old they are),? he said.

?Especially if they are with their mothers -- mother might say ?you are not the one who gave birth to him/her, why do you know better than I do??? Abalos said.

?Then you have nothing to disprove that he or she is not 18 years old,? he added.

In such cases, Abalos gave election officials ?the widest discretion? to determine whether one was old enough to vote.

The issue of minors voting in an election was one of a swarm of poll cases that have confronted the Comelec.

Another case concerned poll worker Faizal Kalantungan, whose assignment as an election inspector was disputed by Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol.

Kalantungan has executed an affidavit saying that 38 ballot boxes and 190 election returns remained unclaimed at the Sangguniang Bayan, putting into question Bedol?s claim that the provincial canvass of votes had been finished.

Neri Colmenares, legal counsel and second nominee of the party-list group Bayan Muna, showed on Monday a copy of an official list indicating that Kalantungan was a member of the board of election inspectors in Pagalungan, Maguindanao. With a report from Jocelyn Uy



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