As the 2022 elections draw near, calls to provide concrete and viable health and security protocols have been rampant. In partnership with Participate PH and the Ateneo School of Government, the DLSU Jesse M. Robredo Institute of Governance (JRIG) conducted a webinar titled COVID-Proofing the 2022 Elections was held last December 3 via Facebook Live and Zoom with the aim of supporting and encouraging research on elections-related topics.
The 2022 National Elections cannot be postponed—this was a sentiment emphasized by Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. While the pandemic has provided limitations and hurdles to the usual electoral procedures, it is the responsibility of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to push through with it.
In line with this, Department of Psychology Associate Prof. Homer Yabut presented a paper that examined Filipinos’ willingness to vote. The results showed that people are “very willing” to vote, based on voting intention, attitude toward voting, subjective norms about voting, and perceived behavioral controls.
Meanwhile, JRIG Lead Policy Research Specialist Ian Jason Hecita highlighted a research focused on the electoral procedures done during the Palawan plebiscite last March 13. Considered as the Philippines’ first electoral activity during the pandemic, it provided a basis for policies recommended by Hecita. Among these are physical distancing, plastic dividers and limited capacity in the polling stations, separate lanes for those with or without symptoms, and an installation of isolated polling stations.
Echoing these, Department of Political Science and Development Studies Professional Lecturer Gerardo Eusebio further emphasized the necessity of implementing minimum health protocols and the limitation or prohibition of face-to-face campaigning. Based on his comparative analysis of South Korea, the United States, France, and Indonesia’s electoral pursuits amid the pandemic, Eusebio pushed that Comelec must “commit to clarifying and reminding everyone of the election rules and protocols,” as well as banning any more of in-person campaigning to reduce the chances of virus transmission.
Feasibility of recommendations
Barzaga stated that there are several factors in place that would deem the recommendations inapplicable, as the lack of resources and manpower hinder Comelec from fully implementing them, especially those on reducing physical contact and providing voters with personal protective equipment. He shared that the commission is also not in a position to push for mandatory vaccinations since there is no existing executive order in place.
In terms of health protocols in place, the congressman pointed out that some still refuse to follow them. “This reduced physical contact, as seen so far, is not being followed…our voters idolize our candidates and want to have a handshake with them—regardless if they would get COVID-19 in the process,” he explained.
Also taking into account areas without internet connection and access to the necessary devices, recommendations regarding a transition to a fully online campaign were also criticized by Barzaga. He commented that the electoral process itself must be mandated and changed to further adapt to the situation.
Atty. Luie Tito Guia, co-founder of the Democratic Insights Group, Inc. and former Comelec commissioner, added that a fully online campaign could also “marginalize certain sectors that don’t have access to the necessary devices.” Possible compromises on the security of electoral procedures such as through cyberattacks in light of a fully online campaign were also brought up.
Furthermore, Guia mentioned that while recommendations focusing on voters’ safety and health are necessary, electoral systems must also be “future-proofed” by changing the current omnibus election code.
“If we do not change [the election code], then it would be difficult for us to adapt alternative voting arrangements,” he urged.