SC issues TRO vs Comelec’s ‘No Bio, No Boto’ policy

MANILA, Dec. 1 (PNA) — The Supreme Court (SC) en banc on Tuesday issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the “No Bio, No Boto” policy of the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

In a press conference, SC Public Information Office (PIO) Chief and Spokesman Atty. Theodore O. Te said “the Court resolved to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) effective immediately until further orders from the Court directing the respondent Comelec to desist from deactivating registered voters without biometric information.”

Likewise, the SC ordered respondent Comelec to submit its comment within a non-extendible period of 10 days from notice.

The SC also directed the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to submit its comment within the same non-extendible period as respondent Comelec.

At the same time, the SC required the personal service on all parties by the Clerk of Court of the en banc.

In a 32-page petition for certiorari and prohibition, Kabataan party-list Rep. James Mark Terry Ridon and other petitioners sought for the exercise of judicial review to assail the constitutionality of the deactivation of registration of voters without biometrics and enjoin the implementation of provisions of the Republic Act No. 10367 or “An Act Providing for Mandatory Biometrics Voter Registration.”

The Kabataan party-list also sought for the nullification of Comelec Resolution No. 9721 dated June 26, 2013, Resolution No. 9863 dated April 1, 2014 and Resolution No. 10013, all related to deactivation of voter registration records in the May 9, 2016 National and Local Elections, as directed by the assailed RA No. 10367.

Assisted by legal counsel Atty. Krissy Conti, petitioners include Kabataan Partyist Rep. Terry Ridon and Kabataan Partylist president Marjohara Tucay, who are suing for and in behalf of the youth party, along with Sarah Elago, president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines; Vencer Crisostomo, chairperson of Anakbayan;

Marc Lino Abila, national president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines; Einstein Recedes, deputy secretary-general of Anakbayan; Charisse Bañez, chairperson of the League of Filipino Students; and aggrieved parties Arlene Clarisse Julve and Sining Marfori, both of whom stand to lose their right to vote due to the assailed law and implementing regulations.

“Republic Act No. 10367 and its implementing regulations are unconstitutional as these impose an unconstitutional, additional substantive requirement imposed on the exercise of suffrage, thus violating Section 1, Article V of the 1987 Constitution,” the petitioners said.

They noted that the 1987 Constitution explicitly states that “[n]o literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.”

“In contravention of the above-stated constitutional provision, Republic Act No. 10367 and its implementing regulations imposed an additional substantive requirement for all voters, both old and new registrants, to submit for mandatory biometrics validation or risk being deactivated or removed precinct book of voters, thus effectively barring them from the exercise of their right to vote,” they added.

“Further egregious is the fact that voters with active records according to Republic Act No. 8189, the antecedent Voters Registration Law of 1996, comprise bulk of those who will be deactivated. The deactivation of registered voters qualified under Republic Act No. 8189 is incompatible with the tenet that laws with penal sanctions should apply prospectively and not retrospectively,” they said.

“Secondly, the biometrics validation gravely violates due process as it is an unreasonable deprivation of the constitutional right to vote for millions of Filipinos who have failed to register their biometric information despite existing and active registration – in effect a voter’s re-registration – for various reasons whether personal or institutional,” they added.

The petitioners noted that despite Comelec’s “No Bio, No Boto” campaign, official data from the Comelec showed that only 3,599,906 registered voters have undergone the mandatory biometrics validation procedure as of Sept. 30, 2015.

The Comelec also revealed that a total of 3,059,601 registered voters remain without biometrics data as of Sept. 30, 2015.

According to the Comelec, this figure is equivalent to 5.86 percent of the total 52,239,488 registered voters for the 2016 national and local elections.

“It is thus apparent that over three million registered voters stand to illegally lose their right of suffrage in the May 9, 2016 national and local elections without the benefit of due process due to the implementation of an additional requirement that is patently unconstitutional,” the petitioners argued.

Just last month, the Kabataan party-list and several youth groups also filed a petition before the SC to question the Oct. 31, 2015 deadline for voters’ registration set by the Comelec.

The SC has already ordered Comelec to comment on the said petition. (PNA)