SC asked not to lift TRO on “no bio, no boto” policy

By Perfecto T. Raymundo

MANILA, Dec. 11 (PNA) — The petitioners against the “No Bio, No Boto” policy of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Friday filed a manifestation before the Supreme Court (SC) seeking to counter the Comelec’s allegations with regard to the ramifications of the SC’s temporary restraining order (TRO) against the assailed policy.

In their eight-page supplemental manifestation, the petitioners, led by Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon, cited Comelec Chair Andres Bautista’s recent statement wherein he warned that the TRO “materially impacts” the election preparations, and that the Comelec may even have to postpone the May 9, 2016 elections if it fails to meet its preparation targets.

“COMELEC’s technical predicament stems from the fact that the poll body excluded the estimated 2.5 million active voters without biometrics in the forward planning for the upcoming elections, despite the fact that these voters have already participated in past elections and are well in their right to participate in the next polls, if not for the assailed ‘No Bio, No Boto’ policy,” the petitioners argued.

“It implies that the respondent has in fact systematically planned to disenfranchise the said number of registered voters, even from the beginning of the election preparations,” they added.

The manifestation also took a swipe against Comelec’s argument that the “No Bio, No Boto” policy aims at cleaning the voters list and weed out flying voters.

“By consistently raising alarm over ‘flying voters,’ is the COMELEC insinuating that there as much as 2.5 million illegal ‘flying voters’ in the country? Without actual data stratifying the identities and number of registered voters without biometric information, neither party can assert the exact reason why 2.5 million have failed to submit themselves to COMELEC again between May 2014 and October 2015,” the petitioners argued.

“Whether they are actually ‘flying voters,’ and whether the lapse has been on the part of COMELEC or of the voter, the certain fact is this: 2.5 million registered voters cannot vote at the next elections,” they added.

“More importantly, what COMELEC fails to explain in detail is that the whole point of biometric registration and validation will prove to be moot, as the backend technology that will enable the poll body to digitally verify and validate voters’ identities come Election Day will not be used,” the petitioners argued.

They noted that instead of providing an electronic Voter Verification System (VVS), Comelec Chair Bautista announced to the public in November that a hard copy of the voters’ list will still be used in the upcoming elections to verify the identities of voters.

Bautista has earlier said that the VVS, which will supposedly check a voter’s biometrics such as fingerprints electronically on Election Day, is seen by Comelec as “a want rather than a need.”

“Without the VVS, there will be no means for teachers and poll employees manning the precincts on Election Day to actually use the biometrics information gathered by COMELEC… Given these circumstances, there is in fact no compelling need for COMELEC to continue insisting on implementing the ‘No Bio, No Boto’ policy,” the petitioners argued.

In their manifestation, they also said that the right of over 2.5 million voters set to be disenfranchised by the “No Bio, No Boto” policy trumps any argument on logistical concerns.

They cited the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a signatory, which requires the country to respect the people’s right of suffrage without unreasonable restrictions.

“This Honorable Court is now entrusted with the power to provide the people relief from unreasonable burdens and the freedom to exercise their rights. Petitioners ask that this Court maintain and continue the temporary restraining order against the deactivation of voters without biometric information, for equal dignity and respect,” the petitioners added.

The SC is expected to hold a special en banc session on Dec. 16, 2015 to render a ruling on the “No Bio, No Boto” case. (PNA)