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Electoral challenges explored in ‘Democracy Goes On’ virtual townhall

Hosted by international research organization Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi), a townhall discussion held last October 26 via Zoom titled Democracy Goes On: Upholding a Safe, Free, and Credible 2022 Elections in the New Normal featured panelists who spoke about voter literacy and safety amid widespread disinformation and the COVID-19 health emergency. 

Voter safety 

With the pandemic shifting previously established voting procedures and protocols, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had to ensure a safety plan for voters and for the Commission to press on with physical operations. 

The strict implementation of social distancing in classrooms takes into account not only the number of voters but also the size of the rooms. Considering this, Comelec Director James Jimenez highlighted, “We are looking to ensure that there is proper and adequate ventilation in the rooms.”

He also outlined the filtering process. Upon entering the polling station, there will be mandatory temperature checks; a voter with a temperature ranging from 37 degrees Celsius or higher will be redirected to the isolation polling station. If the voter checks at a normal body temperature range, the voter will proceed to the voter assistant’s desk, at which the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting will provide the classroom or precinct assignments and the sequence numbers to aid in identifying where they will vote. 

In previous elections, voters visited per classroom to check their names at the posted list on classroom doors, congregating in the area. This process would be counterproductive in maintaining social distancing. With the new safety plan, voters are ensured of a smooth and safe voting process. 

Due to the rising tally of total reported COVID-19 cases remaining a threat to voter safety, Youth Leadership for Democracy Program Officer Atty. Mildred Ople encouraged Comelec to maximize information dissemination to educate the public prior to the actual voting schedule and to diminish their fears. “We highly encourage the Comelec to maximize their presence online and in the radio stations, [and] localities.”

Meanwhile, Jimenez also reports that the initial voter projection of 59 million registrants has been surpassed, with the tally now nearing 63 million registered voters. According to Comelec, the extension of voter registration paved the way for the numbers to continuously rise and for 400,000 more individuals to become newly registered voters.

Making informed decisions

As election season draws nearer, false information has become more prevalent especially in social media. 

Highlighting this, University of the Philippines Diliman Associate Prof. Danilo Arao pointed out the importance of the press in aiding voters in making informed decisions in the country’s first “pandemic elections”. Supporting his points, he presented a survey conducted by Reuters Institute and the University of Oxford which showed that most Filipinos access news online primarily through their smartphones, while some through computers and tablets. 

While the study showed that Facebook, YouTube, and Facebook Messenger were among the top social media platforms used by Filipinos to access digital news, Arao shared his surprise about Instagram and TikTok’s inclusion in the top six despite being platforms that are more geared toward entertainment. 

Arao also expressed concerns with regard to the news coverage on the electoral race in terms of issues such as bias for “popular” candidates, underreporting of the partylist race, “embedded reporting”, and accommodation of fake political ads. To prevent these from further happening, he suggested having a rotation system among reporters when covering candidates and avoiding one-sided reports. The professor also urged journalists to become more objective, suggesting that the candidates’ media agenda should also be confronted to tackle issues surrounding press freedom and impunity. 

The final extension for voter registration, transfer of records, and status reactivation officially closes on October 30, Saturday. 

By Patricia Fallarme

By Michele Gelvoleo

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