300,000 teachers disenfranchised
By Rainier Allan Ronda
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Education (DepEd) urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday to act on the complaints of some 300,000 teachers on their possible disenfranchisement in the May 10 polls.
The DepEd said the Comelec failed to reactivate the teachers’ registration as voters in their respective precincts.
DeEd Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs Franklin Sunga said the large number of teachers facing disenfranchisement was causing demoralization in the ranks.
“Our teachers have been religiously performing their election duties as part of public service since the country’s first elections. For them to be deactivated as a consequence of their service is grossly unfair. We urge Comelec to listen to the plight of the teachers,” Sunga appealed.
He said that in the past, the Comelec allowed teachers on poll duty to vote in their assigned precincts and not where they are registered.
As provided by Comelec guidelines, any person who has not voted in the precinct where he is a registered voter for the past two elections is automatically removed from the voters’ list.
Since teachers who served as members or heads of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) voted in the precincts where they were serving and not in their original precincts, the Comelec has deactivated their original voter registration, causing their disenfranchisement.
“The law requires members of the BEI to be registered voters. In the case of public school teachers who will be serving as members of the BEI, the consequence of disenfranchisement is the possibility of being charged criminally,” Sunga pointed out.
Sunga said the teachers should not be “punished for doing their jobs.”
DepEd officials learned of the problem during an election briefing last Wednesday where the teachers complained of Comelec’s refusal to act on their request for reactivation.
DepEd spokesman Jonathan Malaya said they would try to push Comelec to act on the issue before election day.
Malaya said many teachers serving as BEIs, particularly in Metro Manila and in other urban areas, became disappointed after learning they have been disenfranchised and deprived of their constitutional right of suffrage.
“We have been asking the Comelec for the longest time to resolve this issue,” he said.
Benjo Basas, national chair of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition (TDC), said the number of teachers disenfranchised because of Comelec inaction was 300,000.
“The Comelec deliberatey ignored our earlier calls for resolution of this matter,” Basas said.
Basas also echoed the concerns of the teachers against reverting to the manual counting of votes being pushed by some sectors concerned over the security and integrity of the voting.
Basas said the proposal to revert to manual counting would “compromise the welfare of the teachers serving on election day.”
Basas explained the teachers would find it difficult to revert to manual counting because they have been already trained on the use of the PCOS machines.
He pointed out the clustering of precincts under the automated election system had the number of teachers acting as BEIs reduced from 800,000 to only about 250,000.
“Manually counting the votes of almost 1,000 voters from a ballot especially made for machine scanning would take a lot of time for the BEI and would expose our teachers to so much stress, physical exhaustion, intimidation and harassment,” he said.
Basas, a teacher in a Caloocan high school, said they are more inclined to give Comelec and Smartmatic the chance to address the technical problems encountered by the PCOS machines and push through with the automated polls.
As stakeholders, Basas assured that teachers, especially those who will serve as BEIs, would closely monitor the troubleshooting efforts of the Comelec and Smartmatic.
Education Secretary Mona Valisno and Sunga stressed the teachers will monitor the second testing of the PCOS machines and “scrutinize the readiness” of the contraptions for the elections on Monday.
“Rest assured that our public school teachers will not give their seal of approval if the PCOS machines will not be worth the same,” Sunga said.
The two officials called on the Comelec to deploy more personnel in the polling precincts to help the teachers with any additional duties that may arise on election day.
Valisno said the teachers were asked to insert the compact flash cards inside the PCOS machines during the first testing. He said Comelec personnel should do the insertion of the flash cards.
Valisno vouched for the integrity of the PCOS machines against cheating.
“Given the features of the PCOS machines and the nature of the automated voting and counting processes, we believe it is highly unlikely that massive cheating could occur without the active participation of teachers who comprise the BEIs,” Sunga added.
Valisno said the teachers who would comprise the BEIs in the new clustering of precincts under the automated system had been chosen for their competence and experience in poll duties. – With Paolo Romero