MANILA, Philippines – More than 19,000 soldiers and 1,800 policemen are expected to vote ahead of the May 10 elections in major military camps and police stations nationwide, starting today until Friday, as part of the government’s absentee voting program.
Today, Navy personnel in the Western Mindanao Command and the Southern Luzon Command will cast their ballots.
Tomorrow, officers and airmen in Villamor Air Base in Pasay City will go through the electoral exercise.
Absentee voting for soldiers in Metro Manila will be held at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City on Friday.
Other military units have yet to announce their schedule of voting as of last night.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Rene Sarmiento said the selected polling centers nationwide are open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. on those three days.
These will be located in police stations, military camps, and government offices, he added.
Absentee voters will cast their ballots manually because it would be costly to automate for a small number of voters, Sarmiento said.
Col. Ricardo Nepomuceno, AFP Task Force HOPE (Honest Orderly and Peaceful Elections) spokesman, said the Comelec has approved the request of 19,722 absentee voters in the Armed Forces.
“We would like to announce that the local absentee voting for AFP personnel would be anytime between April 28 to 30,” he said.
Nepomuceno said 1,420 soldiers assigned in Metro Manila are expected to cast their ballots in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
“Other than here (Camp Aguinaldo), we have the major camps, the Air Force and Navy, they have also their voting places,” he said.
“We will allow all of them to vote. I think we are encouraging all service commanders to ensure that all those who applied for absentee voting would be able to cast their votes.”
Absentee voting will not apply to soldiers assigned in places where they are registered voters, Nepomuceno said.
Data from the military showed 958 absentee voters in the Cordillera Administrative Region, 100 in Ilocos Region, 486 in Cagayan Valley, 1,451 in Central Luzon, 2,128 in Bicol, 5,100 in Southern Tagalog and the entire Visayas, 1,106 in Zamboanga Peninsula, 1,475 in Northern Mindanao, 1,041 in the Davao Region, and 4,457 in SOCCSKSARGEN, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), and CARAGA Region.
Only 1,800 policemen in absentee voting
However, only 1,800 of the 130,000 policemen nationwide were allowed to take part in absentee voting today and until Friday.
Chief Superintendent Leonardo Espina, Philippine National Police spokesman, said the Comelec denied the request of the 128,200 policemen because they had failed to vote in the past two elections.
“A total of 1,800 police personnel will participate in absentee voting in different regions,” he said.
Espina said absentee voting for policemen will not take place in Metro Manila, Calabarzon, Central Visayas, Northern Mindanao, Cordillera Administrative Region, and the ARMM.
The policemen will vote manually, not shade oblongs beside the names of candidates, he added.
PNP chief Director General Jesus Verzosa will not avail of absentee voting because he will attend a meeting of the Bishop-Ulama Conference, Espina said.
Military vehicles banned from transporting ballots
The Comelec has banned police and military vehicles from transporting ballots and other election material to be used in the May10 elections.
In Resolution 8823, the poll body said election paraphernalia, including the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines, ballot boxes and official ballots can no longer be transported in police and military vehicles.
However, the Comelec said exemptions can be made in extreme cases on condition that an official request letter would be sent to the elections official assigned in the area where the emergency occurred.
Transport of ballots and the counting machines is the responsibility of Smartmatic-Total Information Management (TIM) Corp., according to the poll body.
The Comelec said the police and military shall not participate in the physical handling of any election paraphernalia and equipment to avoid suspicion of involvement in rigging of election results.
However, policemen and soldiers will remain in charge of providing security to the PCOS machines, accessories, and official ballots and other election paraphernalia while in transit, the poll body added.
The Comelec said the police and military shall also be responsible for perimeter security in all hubs and sub hubs in coordination with the regional/provincial/city Joint Security Control Centers and the election officer concerned.
Police and the military will also provide security to polling centers, members of the Board of Election Inspectors, and accredited citizens’ arm volunteers before the arrival of the PCOS machines and accessories at the polling precincts, the poll body added.
AFP to set up operations hub
Meanwhile, AFP Task Force HOPE will set up an operation hub in Camp Aguinaldo to monitor poll-related violent incidents.
Nepomuceno said the operation center would allow them to oversee the security situation nationwide and to coordinate with regional joint security coordinating centers.
“We are preparing the operations center of Task Force HOPE,” he said.
“It would facilitate the exchange of information on, before, and after the election. It would be more efficient if we open our contact numbers here.”
The operation center is scheduled to be launched on April 30.
It will feature facilities like computers that media practitioners can use to file their stories, television monitors, and telephone units. – With Cecille Suerte Felipe, Mayen Jaymalin, Maria Ana Saet, Carra Callen Tamayo