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SAYS COMELEC A first in RP: 23,000 inmates to vote in May polls

Posted on: March 1, 2010

SAYS COMELEC
A first in RP: 23,000 inmates to vote in May polls

By Anna Valmero
INQUIRER.net
First Posted 12:06:00 03/01/2010

Filed Under: Prison, Elections, Human Rights

MANILA, Philippines—The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said that over 23,000 inmates nationwide will vote for the first time in the May 10 automated elections—with some to vote in special polling places inside detention facilities.

Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, who also chairs the committee for detainee registration and voting, told INQUIRER.net that the poll body resolved that detainees—who reside and have registered as voters in the district or municipality where the detention facilities are located—could vote in the country’s first attempt in automating the elections.

At least 23,657 detainees or 43 percent of the total 54,866 detainees eligible to vote in 414 facilities of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) have registered with the poll body between July and October 15, Sarmiento said.

“Under the law, a person can vote in the elections if he has resided in the municipality where he intends to vote six months prior to the elections and at least a year in the country. Detainees who are not convicted of any crime or punished by the Revised Penal Code, penal laws, or regulations are still presumed innocent of their accusations and retain their right of suffrage,” said Sarmiento.

Earlier, citing “security risks” to regular voters and the lack of BJMP personnel to escort the detainees to polling precincts, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson Leila De Lima filed a petition against the Comelec plan to hold escorted voting of detainees at regular polling precincts on May 10.

“Rather than the persons deprived of their liberty going to the polling places, the polling places should go to the persons deprived of their liberty,” CHR proposed in its petition.

“Comelec granted the petition of CHR to create special polling places inside jails and ruled that it would hold special polling precincts and establish special boards of election inspectors (SBEIs) in municipal, district, city, and provincial jails, or detention facilities with at least 100 registered detainee voters,” said Sarmiento.

The SBEI for detainee voting will bring the precinct-specific ballots inside jails, and conduct voting on Election Day, except the scanning and counting of the ballots by the poll machines. “The filled-up ballots will be brought to the detainees’ respective precincts for scanning and counting, said Sarmiento.

For detention facilities with less than 100 registered detainee voters, Comelec will have escorted voting. Here, BJMP personnel on May 10 will accompany detainees in voting, said the poll official.

For this purpose, Comelec authorizes the BJMP and Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) personnel who are escorting the detainees to their polling precincts to bear firearms while inside polling places for security purposes, Sarmiento said.

Meanwhile, BJMP and BuCor personnel who would escort detainee voters are urged to avail of the local absentee voting on April.

The vote of detainees would be vital in ensuring the victory of local candidates, said Sarmiento

“By sheer number, the detainee voting can dictate the winner in local elections, which are usually won by a margin of 10 to 100 votes. And we told this to the detainees during our voters’ education campaign. And in their eyes, you can see that they are looking forward to exercising their right to choose the country’s next leaders,” said Sarmiento.

Of the total 23,000 registered detainee voters, about 90 percent or 21,090 were males and the rest, 2,567, were females, he said.

Metro Manila had the highest detainee registration turnout at 5,677 followed by Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) with 4,629 inmates, and Central Visayas with 2,137 inmates, according to the BJMP data.

Bicol had the least number of detainee voter applicants at 199.

Turnout in other regions are as follows: Western Visayas, 1,914 inmates; Northern Mindanao, 1,770; Zamboanga Peninsula, 1,582; Davao Region, 1,374; and Central Luzon, 1,183, BJMP reported.

Regions with turnout of below 1,000 include Eastern Visayas, 711 inmates; Ilocos Region, 669; Soccsksargen, 561; Caraga, 456; Cagayan Valley, 294; Mimaropa (Mindoro-Masbate-Romblon-Palawan), 262; and Cordillera Administrative Region, 239.

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