WE congratulate the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for the successful holding of the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections. As committed by our poll body, there was no failure of election in any of the 201,786 precincts across the country. We also extend our congratulations to the winners of the BSKE. Our newly elected barangay and SK officials should make the most of their opportunity to serve their communities. SK winners should use their platforms to become conduits for change.
The new law on the SK, Republic Act 11768, is intended to strengthen the SK and make it more responsive and relevant to the present times. We crafted the law with this in mind, which is why we listed down a menu of programs, projects and activities that will be more beneficial to the youth in your communities and erase the notion that the SK is nothing more than an organizer of sportsfests and pageants.
There were some hiccups reported in the electoral process that should be addressed for the future elections. Among these were the complaints coming from senior citizens, who flocked to the precincts to cast their ballots, but encountered some problems along the way. Based on news media reports, many senior citizens went to their respective precincts as early as 5 a.m. to vote but were not allowed to do so. The election officers were not to blame for this since there were no instructions about the conduct of early voting for seniors coming from the Comelec, except for two local government units: Naga and Muntinlupa City.
The two LGUs were selected by the Comelec for the pilot implementation of the early voting for senior citizens and persons with disabilities (PWDs) for the 2023 BSKE. This meant that they were allowed to cast their ballots two hours before the official start of voting at 7 a.m. The seniors and PWDs who went early to the precincts outside of the two LGUs had to wait until 7 a.m.
There were also reports about how some seniors and PWDs had to climb several flights of stairs to cast their votes since their precincts and ballot boxes were located on the upper floors. While emergency accessible polling places were designated by the Comelec for seniors and PWDs, this did not entirely produce positive results. For the convenience of the seniors and PWDs, the election personnel would be allowed to drop the ballots of voters at their assigned precincts provided that they sign a waiver allowing them to do so. Many of the voters found it troublesome to accomplish the waivers and a lot more refused to do so because of trust issues.
These issues aside, Comelec Chairman George Garcia said the pilot implementation of the early voting scheme for vulnerable sectors was a success and that this should be replicated across the country. He said the law to institutionalize this should already be approved by Congress so that Comelec could already implement this in the 2025 election. We filed Senate Bill Number 777 at the beginning of the 19th Congress in July of 2019. Our bill will pave the way for the conduct of early voting for seniors and PWDs and the designation of precincts as accessible polling places for their exclusive use.
Seniors and PWDs will be allowed to cast their votes for a period no less than two days within 15 days before election day. Those who register for early voting will also have the option to cast their ballot via post in designated precincts.
The accessible polling places would include public schools, town halls or plazas, civic centers, community centers or other similarly designated special venues or areas, preferably those designed with special features to ensure their safety and comfort. They must have sufficient disability support services located at the ground floor of designated election offices or strategic areas at every city or municipality all over the country.
Public hearings have been conducted for the bill and we expect that this will be taken up in plenary soon. Earlier this year, the House of Representatives approved its version of the bill. With these developments, we are optimistic that early voting and greater accessibility for our seniors and PWDs will be in place when the mid-term election is held in 2025.
Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 19 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 10 as Senator. He has authored, co-authored, and sponsored more than 330 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara