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Comelec gets SM’s okay, 52 more malls as voting venues

The Commission on Elections now has 52 more malls that it can use as voting precincts if its plans don't miscarry as the 2016 elections draw near.

Comelec chairman Andres Bautista said SM Supermalls had agreed to allow the election body to use its malls as voting venues in next year's national elections.

Bautista made the announcement after a meeting between Comelec officials and SM Supermalls President Annie Garcia on Thursday.

“The Comelec remains committed to improve the voting experience of the public. This is why we are delighted to learn that SM is willing to offer its malls as voting centers in the forthcoming elections,” Bautista said in a statement.

For her part, Garcia said d that SM has always been supportive of the COMELEC’s efforts at ensuring credible, peaceful and orderly elections.

“In line with this and as part of our commitment to give all the convenience to the public, especially to the mall-goers, we would like to tell COMELEC that our 52 malls will be made available as voting centers in the 2016 national elections,” she added.

Bautista earlier secured Robinson Land Corp.'s go-ahead to use 42 Robinsons malls as voting precincts.

"There have been preliminary studies made. I think this is a step to enhance the voting experiences of the voters. It is a win-win. Everybody would like to vote in an air conditioned place, no power issues, I think the security would be better, it is well lighted," Bautista said in an earlier news conference.

"In case there will be lines, the voter can go first to a book store or have merienda. Although not everybody can vote in  the mall. Our vision is only precincts adjacent to the malls," he added.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, however, questioned the legality of holding elections in the malls, pointing out that Sections 42 and 155 of the Omnibus Election Code specified that polling places should be in public schools or in any other public building.

"Sections 42 and 155 of Omnibus Election Code provide that transfer of polling places could be effected only through petitions of political parties; or petition of 50% of voters; or by resolution of Comelec if existing polling place is no longer usable." Macalintal said.

The election lawyer also noted that poll places should not be under the actual control of a private entity, a political party or religious group. The private building should not be owned by a candidate or political parties or their relatives within the fourth civil degree of consanguinity or affinity.

"What if relatives of these mall owners file their certificate of candidacy in October? Then it will affect Comelec preparation. This is a very noble project but Comelec should look into some legal loopholes to make it more effective," Macalintal said.

SM's Garcia said SM Supermalls’ accessibility, senior citizens and People with Disability (PWD)- friendly facilities, air-conditioned facilities will make it an ideal place for people to cast their votes.

In October 2013 Barangay elections, four SM malls had been used as voting precincts for senior citizens and PWDs.

“We have done this before, being the first mall to have been made into a voting center in the last elections and this is another opportunity for us to give our customers all the convenience especially at a most crucial period in our country,” Garcia said.

SM Supermalls is currently hosting Comelec’s biometrics registrations in all its malls nationwide under the latter’s No Boto, No Bio program. -NB, GMA News