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Group to meet on detainees’ right to vote

Posted on: April 10, 2009

Group to meet on detainees’ right to vote

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 16:48:00 04/09/2009

Filed Under: Eleksyon 2010, Elections, Inquirer Politics

MANILA, Philippines—A technical working group (TWG) formed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is set to meet Tuesday (April 14) to discuss and resolve the lack of legal and administrative mechanisms to allow detainees to register and vote, an official said.

Comelec commissioner and head of the TWG Rene Sarmiento said detainees, or individuals detained without being sentenced, are still presumed innocent of their accusations and retain their right of suffrage but fail to exercise this right due to “legal and administrative” limitations.

According to statistics of the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology (BJMP), detainees comprise about 95 percent of the total jail population.

Citing BJMP statistics, Sarmiento said 43, 391 detainees are qualified to register and vote in 2010.

By not exercising their civil and political rights which they retain because they are “still presumed innocent,” detainees are among the groups of disenfranchised voters, said Sarmiento.

“Through the meeting, we hope to address these legal issues if detainees can register and vote once and for all,” said Sarmiento.

Sarmiento said the group would draft the proposal containing legal and procedural inputs of on-site registration and voting for detainees in their respective penitentiary before submitting the paper to the Comelec en banc for approval.

Detainees face issues on access to registration, polling places and information, given that they are displaced from their residences.

In Section 135 of the Omnibus Election Code, it was stated that “no polling place shall be located within the perimeter of or inside a military camp or reservation or within a prison compound.”

Such results into the issue of security—detainees need to get a Court Order before they could be brought to designated polling places, said Sarmiento.

Citing the book “Ensuring the Right to Electoral Participation,” Sarmiento said even if detainees are allowed to go to designated polling places, there is a need to address the prohibition of carrying firearms in polling precincts, which is aimed to prevent the possibility of flight of detainees.

Tapping jail personnel as members of the Board of Election Inspector on election day and conducting campaigns for detainees are also issues that need to be resolved.

The TWG is studying if detainees can be included in the local absentee voting law and be allowed to exercise their right of suffrage, said Sarmiento.

If these legal and administrative issues preventing detainees to vote are addressed, “the 2010 elections will be historic, paving way for political leaders to listen to the plight of detainees,” noted Sarmiento.

“If the proposal gets approved, the voter’s registration project for detainees can start hopefully before end of May,” said Sarmiento.

“We cannot delay this matter because October 31–the deadline for registration–is just around the corner and we need to harmonize the project with the poll automation time line,” said Sarmiento in an earlier report.

Apart from the Comelec and BJMP, the technical working group is composed of other officials from the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Commission on Human Rights and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines.

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