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COMELEC GROUP ‘Detainees’ right to vote is our goal’

Posted on: April 14, 2009

COMELEC GROUP ‘Detainees’ right to vote is our goal’

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 19:40:00 04/14/2009

Filed Under: Elections, Inquirer Politics

MANILA, Philippines–The Commission on Elections (Comelec) technical working group for detainees’ right to vote will submit its proposal to provide mechanisms for detainees to vote in the 2010 polls, an official said.

“With the proposal, we hope for Comelec en banc’s approval to allow detainees who are in detention facilities located at the municipality or city of their residence to register for and vote in the upcoming 2010 elections,” said Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento who also heads the group.

The proposal also applies for those who have not availed of escorted voting to a precinct outside detention facility, according to the proposal.

In the Philippines, detainees fail to exercise this right due to “legal and administrative” limitations and their peculiar situation in terms of residence, said Sarmiento.

He said the scope of implementation of the proposal is limited to “what is doable and feasible for the TWG to implement for the 2010 elections”

Sarmiento noted the TWG measures in the proposal are “according to existing election and constitutional laws.”

The group met to finalize on Tuesday afternoon its proposal containing the rules and regulations on detainees’ special registration to be submitted to the en banc in the next 10 days.

Quoting the TWG draft proposal, Sarmiento said a detainee “is an individual confined in jails charged for any crime and awaiting or undergoing trial; or any person serving a sentence, by final judgment, of imprisonment for less than a year.”

Detainees who are not convicted of any crime (punished by the Revised Penal Code, penal laws or regulations) are still presumed innocent of their accusations and retain their right of suffrage, according to the TWG rules and regulations on detainees’ special registration.

“Detainees retain the right of a free citizen such as right of suffrage. Refusing the detainees to cast votes is an attack to their dignity,” said lawyer Erwin Caliba from the office of Commissioner Sarmiento.

He added that in countries such as England, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong prisoners were allowed to vote.

According to February statistics of the Bureau of Jail and Management and Penology (BJMP), detainees comprise about 95 percent of the total 60,000 BJMP jail population, said Bryan Julius Gabriel, chief of policies and doctrine division under BJMP’s directorate for program development.

About 40, 000 to 45,000 BJMP detainees are qualified to register and vote in 2010, while 22,080 are not yet registered and 1,820 have been de-listed for not voting in at least two elections, the BKMP exec noted.

At least 13,126 detainees are registered but cannot vote because have been transferred to another detention facility, Gabriel added.

“Residence or permanent home is very crucial concept in the pursuit to exercise detainees’ right to vote. Residence determines the place where the detainee registers and votes,” said Caliba, quoting TWG’s rules and regulations.

Under the law, the jurisdiction of a municipality or city election officer (EO) “is to register all residents of the municipality or city where he is posted,” said Caliba.

If a detainee will be transferred from a previous detention facility to another one, the registration information of the detainee will have to be transferred to the new detention facility.

On election day, a detainee will be eligible to vote in the city or municipality where his or her registration facility is located, provided he or she has stayed for at least 6 months, said Caliba.

To register, a detainee must be at least 18 years old, a resident of the Philippines for one (1) year in the city or municipality of detention for at least 6 months on or before the day of the election.

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.”

The TWG will devise ways to prevent wardens from influencing prisoners on casting their votes by doing personnel reshuffle and related mechanisms.

Responding to this, the group proposed to establish special registration and voting units in detention centers.

Corollary to this, the Comelec will provide measures to deputize BJMP personnel as election personnel who can help appointed poll officials supervise registration and voting, as well as to use BJMP resources for election processes.

BJMP chief superintendent Serafin Barreto Jr. urged the TWG to look into the case of detainees at the BJMP Davao facility who were able to vote in previous elections together with residences in nearby areas.

Sarmiento said the TWG will have long-term commitment to pave way for all Filipino prisoners, detainees or convicted to exercise their right of suffrage.

Commissioner Leonardo Leonida urged the TWG to draft guidelines for legal amendments and measures allowing for all prisoners to vote.

“If a prisoner is convicted for life then the jail is his residence. Even if there is death penalty, we have reformatory prison system allowing convicted prisoners to be free via pardon. There are thousands inside the jail who deserve to vote. So why deprive these persons?” said Leonida.

Detainees face issues on access to registration, polling places and information because they are displaced from their residences; measures to enable them to vote must be done according to the law to prevent future legal challenges, said Commission Armando Velasco.

Sarmiento noted the TWG will also craft a long-term agenda lobbying for law amendments to widen detainee participation in electoral practice.

A possible way is to amend the local absentee voting law to allow detainees to vote on elections, aside from military and other government personnel who perform duties on election day, said the TWG.

The inter-agency TWG is composed of officials from Comelec legal department, Commission on Human Rights, BJMP, Department of Interior and Local Governemnt and Task Force 2010.

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