MANILA – The Commission on Elections has started the process of printing ballots for the October barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections, amid calls by some political leaders to postpone it.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, backed by former Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, is presiding over the printing of ballots – starting with those from the island province of Batanes – while Congress has not yet formalized its announced intent to postpone the polls.
Sarmiento is now chairman of poll watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV).
Each ballot costs P3, and printing will take 60 days; hence, the need to start printing so as not to derail preparations in case the postponement is not legislated in time.
In all, taxpayers will spend P231.6 million for the official ballots.
According to Bautista, the poll body is prepared for any contingency – holding the elections as scheduled or deferring it.
He said Comelec will abide by whatever Congress legislates.
In case of a deferment, however, Comelec would ask Congress to put at least a year’s gap between the barangay elections and the mid-term elections in 2019.
“Magsimula na ngayon, original printing day July 24. But ipinagpaliban para malaman kung ano ang pasya ng liderato. Palagi ko itong sinasabi sa Comelec: kami ay neutral kung ipagpapaliban o hindi ang halalan. Ang mahalaga ay malaman agad kung ano para di tayo gumastos [Printing starts now; original date should have been July 24, but we deferred it, while awaiting the decision of political leaders. We in Comelec are neutral on the issue of postponement. What is important to us is we have enough time to do our job],” Bautista said.
Another postponement is not a problem, he added, noting that elections in the past had been deferred and they were still able to print ballots as scheduled.
But it is important for lawmakers to set the new date as soon as ppossible, he said.
Bautista and the Comelec en banc are eyeing two options: one, adopting a resolution to recognize as valid the ballot with an already stated date; or change the date printed on the ballot.
“The answer is, it depends. The ballots are date- specific [because that’s in the law]. Last October, [we also printed ballots]. We will have two options: either pass a resolution saying the date stated will still be valid for future elections; or, if we want the process really clean, change the date,” which means additional costs, he said.
The en banc still has to deliberate on which option to pick.
According to Bautista, Comelec cannot suspend the preparation and ballot printing while Congress has not yet decided on whether or not to postpone the elections. If they did this, the poll body might run out of time if elections are not postponed, after all.
People are ready to work overtime and add more machines for ballot printing just to meet their deadlines, he said.
Comelec is targeting to finish printing in two months and distribute the ballots in one month.
“Ang gagawin namin, sisikaping bilisan pa printing for more time for packing and shipping. Kaya napakahalaga na malaman kung ano talaga ang desisyon ng liderato [We’ll rush printing to leave more time for packing and shipping. But it’s importannt for us to know soon what is the decision of Congress].”
“We’re ready to hold peaceful and orderly elections, for as long as the dates between elections are not so close to each other,” Bautista said, in Filipino.
How about Mindanao?
Another challenge to Comelec: holding elections in Mindanao which is under martial law on account of the still-unfinished Marawi siege.
Comelec will hold a hearing August 15 in Davao to get feedback from stakeholders.
“Of course, we also have to talk to PPCRV, NAMFREL. We also have to talk to the police, the military because, as we know, there’s martial law in Mindanao and a state of rebellion. Can we have peaceful elections when there’s a state rebellion?” Bautista wondered aloud.
He said Comelec is allowed by law to defer holding the exercise in places like Mindanao.
PPCRV chairman Sarmiento said he supports the Comelec, which he said is not new to postponements. But, he stressed, preparations cannot be set aside when lawmakers are still making up their mind.
WATCH NEWS5’S VIDEOS: