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Comelec, gov’t agencies tackle how to protect Eleksyon 2022 from COVID-19

The Commission on Elections (Comelec), Department of Education (DepEd), and Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) discussed on Monday their preparations to make the 2022 national and local elections COVID-19-proof.

In an election stakeholders’ forum organized by the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), Comelec Deputy Executive Director for Operations Teopisto Elnas Jr. showed the list of preventive measures that would be implemented to help protect poll watchers, volunteers, and voters in the May 9 elections.

Aside from the mandatory wearing of face masks, physical distancing, and hand sanitation, this list included temperature checking in the entrance of the voting precinct, setting up of separate entrance and exit points, the establishment of health stations and holding areas, and installation of plastic barriers between the electoral board and voters.

Elnas said that a maximum of 10 to 15 voters would be allowed inside a polling place at any given time, which will start from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“There are voting or polling places natin na malaki and magva-vary ito. At least, ang guidance is the minimum social distancing requirement [ay] maco-comply strictly within the classroom or polling place,” he explained.

(There are larger polling places but this will vary. At least, our goal is to strictly comply with the minimum distancing requirement.)

DICT Undersecretary Emmanuel Rey Caintic said that due to the pandemic, there may also be a need to conduct RT-PCR tests for the public school teachers and other volunteers during the elections.

DICT also proposed the training of the 2022 National Electoral Boards to incorporate blended training and the setting up of digital signature registration booths at the physical training premises.

“The upcoming elections are sure to be the most challenging one yet. However, let us continue to trust our government who has been tirelessly working and coordinating with one another to set up an organized and safe 2022 elections for all Filipinos. We can achieve this through everyone’s cooperation and continued support in our endeavors,” Caintic said.

Other preparations

According to Comelec, they will be printing the 2022 ballots from January 12 to April 25, 2022, with the initial printing earmarked for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and local absentee voting (LAV). These ballots will be stored at the Comelec’s warehouse in Pasig City.

The mock elections will also be held on December 29 in several barangays within Metro Manila, Isabela, Albay, Negros Oriental, Leyte, Maguindanao, and Davao del Sur.

On the other hand, DICT said that they are amplifying the cloud resources that will be needed for the upcoming elections. They are also coordinating with Comelec for the hosting of its systems.

“DICT, through its Cybersecurity Bureau, has been conducting the Vulnerability Assessment and Penetration Testing services to further assess the security of election data and information,” he said.

For DepEd’s part, Director IV for Procurement Management Service Marcelo Bragado said that the general instructions for the Electoral Board on Eleksyon 2022 came out on November 10.

“This is inclined to specifically provide the rules and regulations and the provisions for the voting, counting, and transmission of election results, as well as the constitution, composition, and appointment of the Electoral Boards, the use of Vote Counting Machines (VCMs), and the process of testing and sealing the VCMs during the elections,” he said.

Bragado added that DepEd had asked the Comelec to increase the honoraria of Electoral Board and other Poll Workers under R.A. No. 10756 or Election Service Reform Act (ESRA), which the latter approved subject to revision.

Aside from the benefits provided by the ESRA, DepEd also proposed that the Comelec grant the Electoral Boards a COVID-19 hazard pay not exceeding P500, transportation allowance of P2,000, special risk allowance equivalent to a maximum of 25% of their basic monthly salary, and health insurance coverage for those who will be infected by the virus, among others.

According to Elnas, there are a total of 65,310,985 voters for Eleksyon 2022. Among these were 46,640 persons deprived of liberty and 12,272 indigenous people. — DVM, GMA News