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CHR seeks voting for detainees

Posted on: April 11, 2009

CHR seeks voting for detainees

By Anna Valmero
First Posted 15:34:00 04/10/2009

Filed Under: Justice & Rights, Elections

MANILA, Philippines—Prison bars should not prevent detainees from exercising their civil and political rights.

But, according to Commission on Human Rights chairperson Leila De Lima, detainees do not vote even if they have not been convicted, are presumed innocent, and have thus retained their right of suffrage.

Of the 53,350 people in Philippine jails, detainees comprise a big chunk of the population at 95 percent, statistics from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology shows. It says the remaining five percent have been convicted and are thus disqualified to vote.

“We must ask ourselves if our election system promotes wider participation of voters given that elections must reflect the general will of the people,” De Lima said.

In the book “Ensuring the Right to Electoral Participation,” De Lima noted several recommendations of CHR to pave way for electoral participation of detainees.

For one, she called for the amendment of the Omnibus Election Code, particularly the provision defining “prison compound” and the extent of prohibition mentioned in Section 155, which states that “no polling place shall be located within the perimeter or inside a military or police camp or reservation or within a prison compound.”

Poll automation and computerization can make it be feasible for detainees to vote inside detention facilities.

De Lima also asked for the development of local absentee voting system whereby detainees may vote for national positions, similar to Iraq, where detainees voted days ahead of election day.

She said the Commission on Elections must also establish a system governing how detainees can vote, coupled with regular voters’ education to empower and inform detainees of their right to vote.

The CHR chief also proposed that a survey be conducted to identify the number of qualified voters, the number of registered voters, and de-listed detainees or those who failed to vote in two national elections.

De Lima said detainees, together with persons with disabilities, elderly, indigenous people, internally displaced persons, and first-time voters, are the most vulnerable sectors whose right of suffrage are limited by government inaction, lack of resources and political will, and inadequate legal framework.

Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said the poll body formed a technical working group to draft a proposal which will discuss and resolve the lack of legal and administrative mechanisms that allow detainees to register and vote.

“The Comelec is open to this new initiative to allow detainees to vote for national positions and if the advocacy pushes through, 2010 will be a historic election and will allow detainees to voice their plight to our leaders. One vote is equal to one voice,” said Sarmiento.


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