Comelec frets as ARMM poll postponement issue hangs
MANILA, Philippines — With two and a half months to go before the Aug. 8 elections in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the Commission on Elections is becoming fretful over Congress’ failure to pass or reject a bill calling for the postponement of the regional polls.
“Of course, we here at the Comelec are feeling the jitters because, up to now, the issues have yet to be resolved,” Sarmiento, head of the Comelec’s ARMM elections steering committee, told reporters.
If the postponement is disapproved with finality in the few weeks before Aug. 8, then Comelec would be forced to cram in their preparations, according to Sarmiento.
The Comelec is equally anxious about two petitions pending at the Supreme Court, both seeking to hold the elections as scheduled and prohibit the Congress from approving the bill.
The poll body earlier revised its calendar of activities for the ARMM polls, citing the need for more time to prepare. The new election period, set to start on June 7, had been shortened to 90 days from the original 120 days.
The delay in Congress, Sarmiento added, has forced Comelec to delay finalizing its contract with the automation service provider, Smartmatic Philippines.
“We cannot seal the contract because of the pending debate in the Senate along with the two petitions filed in the Supreme Court for the holding of the elections in the ARMM,” Sarmiento said.
The Comelec has decided to re-use the Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines for the ARMM polls.
The postponement bill, which calls for the synchronization of the elections with the May 2013 mid-term polls, has been passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate is still deliberating on the bill. Both versions would have to be reconciled at the congressional bicameral conference committee before approved again by both houses.
Sarmiento said the two cases at the Supreme Court, on the other hand, were also being monitored by the Comelec because the justices could rule that the elections should push through, regardless of the decision of Congress.
The poll body has repeatedly called on lawmakers to hurry up their discussions on the postponement bill for the sake of politicians, election watchdogs, election material and services contractors, teachers and government security personnel, and voters who are all stakeholders in the democratic exercise.
Comelec officials earlier said they would not want a repeat of the October 2010 barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK, youth council) elections, which congressmen had wanted to delay but which pushed through just the same. This resulted in hasty preparations by Comelec that led to delays in the delivery of election paraphernalia and other supplies.
Asked if they were already foreseeing a repeat of last October’s scenario, Sarmiento said he and the other commissioners were hoping it would not happen again.
“Well, the difference, this time, is because we are conscious of what happened last October, we could not allow a repeat of that experience… This is the reason why we are busy preparing also so that we can avoid a repeat of that,” said Sarmiento.