Electoral reform measures adopted

from NAMFREL Election Monitor Vol.2, No.29
It is not only the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill that kept the Senate and the House of Representatives busy in the last few weeks. Several measures in line with electoral reform advocacy were also adopted or at least mulled:

Precincts for PWDs and senior citizens

The Bicameral Conference Committee has approved the measure authorizing the Comelec to "establish precincts of a non-territorial nature, exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens who in their registration records manifest their intent to avail of their right to a separate precinct." The measure requires the Comelec to establish at least one precinct for every voting center for persons with disabilities and senior citizens. The precinct should be "provided with assistive devices as well as the services of expert in assisting persons with disabilities." The bill is awaiting the signature of the President to be enacted into law.

Freedom of Information (FOI)

The Senate approved on December 17, on third and final reading, its version of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill, which sets up a mechanism that enables private citizens to access government information. The bill shifts the burden to the government agencies that have custody of the information. With the measure, government agencies will now have to justify any need for secrecy or privacy. Previously, private citizens who want to access this information were the ones who had to justify their need and explain their motives for wanting the information. The Senate version provides for disclosure of information of public interest through posting on government websites. In addition, government agencies must grant requests for access to information within 15 days from receipt of a request. There are exceptions though – information pertaining to national security, or diplomatic and international negotiations, as well as tactical information that may have an impact on ongoing operations may not be divulged.

The House of Representatives though has not taken up their version of the bill. Malacañang has also said that the President would not certify the much-sought after measure as "urgent," unlike the RH bill and the sin tax bill, both of which have already been passed into law.

Voters education subject in high school

The House Committee on Basic Education and Culture has vowed to fast track the passage of a bill seeking to include voters’ education in the high school curriculum of both public and private schools. Under House Bill 5784, or the Voters’ Education Act of 2012, voters’ education shall be included in the curriculum and to be handled by trained teachers in formal and non-formal educational system in Fourth Year High School through lectures, demonstration, and other approaches. The bill mandates the Department of Education (DepEd), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority TESDA) and the Comelec to formulate the Voters’ Education curriculum for both public and private schools, out of school youth, and enrollees in the Alternative Learning System.

The voters’ education program would include relevant subjects such as values formation, importance of the right to suffrage and the sanctity of the ballot, factors in evaluating and choosing candidates, and the electoral process in the Philippines.

Extended domestic absentee voting

The Bicameral Conference Committee has approved the reconciled version of the bill authorizing the Comelec to "extend the right to vote under the local absentee voting system provided under existing laws and executive orders to members of media, media practitioners, including the technical and support staff who on election day may not be able to vote due to the performance of their functions in covering and reporting on the elections." The committee agreed to allow local absentee voting for media only for the President, Vice-President, senators  and party-list representatives. The reconciled bill will require the Comelec to issue implementing rules and regulations (IRR) that "shall include a system of accreditation and verification of the members of the media, media practitioners, technical and support staff" within 30 days from effectivity of this act." The IRR will also identify the date and location of voting for media workers. The bicameral committee also recommended to require officers of media establishments to submit to the Comelec 30 days before election day the list of staff who will be on field duty.

Local absentee voting under Republic Act No. 7166 and Executive Order No. 157 applies only to elections for president, vice-president and senators, and is limited to uniformed state personnel and other employees on poll duty.

For the 2016 elections however, it was reported that the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms is also mulling to extend the advance voting privilege not only to media people but to all Filipinos. The report said that Committee chair Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III believes there is merit in the concept of early voting: "If early voting could be done and it's good for a segment of society, then why not make it available to the entire society, or the entire population?" Comelec Chairman Sixto Brilliantes, Jr. said absentee voting for all Filipinos is plausible as long they are given enough time to prepare.

(Various news sources)