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Comelec: Health protocol violations considered election offenses

Violations of health and safety protocols amid the COVID-19 pandemic during campaign activities in the 2022 elections will be considered election offenses, according to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Campaign period for those running for national posts will start on Feb. 8, 2022 and will last until May 7, 2022. For those running for local posts, the campaign period will be from March 25, 2022 to May 7, 2022.

Under Comelec Resolution 10730 dated November 17, or the rules and regulations for implementation of the Fair Election law in connection with the May 9, 2022 elections, preventing measures and health protocols against COVID-19 include:

1. wearing of face mask and face shield;
2. one-meter physical distancing;
3. frequent disinfection of hands; and
4. proper cough and sneezing etiquette.

"Any violation of Fair Elections Act and these Rules shall constitute an election offense punishable under the first and second paragraph of Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code and other pertinent laws, rules and regulations, whenever applicable," the resolution read.

Section 264 of the Omnibus Election Code penalizes an election offense with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and will not be subject to probation.

In addition, the guilty party will be "sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage."  On the other hand, any political party found guilty will be meted a fine of not less than P10,000 "after criminal action has been instituted in which their corresponding officials have been found guilty."

"The Commission shall, through its duly authorized legal officers, have the power, concurrent with other prosecuting arms of the government, to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses and prosecute the same," the Comelec resolution added.

Likewise, the same resolution mandates that all campaign organizing staff should submit a notarized Affidavit of Compliance with Health Protocols to the Comelec with territorial jurisdiction over the place where the in-person campaign activity was conducted within 24 hours after the conclusion of any in-person campaign activity.

The failure to submit an Affidavit of Compliance with Health Protocols shall constitute noncooperation of the person or entities punishable under Section 9 par. (d) or (e), as the case may be, of Republic Act No. 11332, otherwise known as the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act, and its Implementing Rules and Regulations.

The Philippines is eyeing to fully vaccinate 80% of its 109 million population by the May 9, 2022 polls.

To date, only around 33 million Filipinos are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.  —Llanesca T. Panti/KBK, GMA News