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Senator Risa Hontiveros sought for a hike in allocation for the Commission on Election (Comelec) budget to prepare for the 2022 presidential elections in light of the major health adjustments necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Hindi natin alam kung kailan magkakabakuna, kaya health concern pa din ang budget ng Comelec leading up to 2022. We have to ensure the elections don’t become a super spreader for Covid-19 infections,” she said.

Hontiveros said 2021 will be the Philippines “transition year into the new normal.”

“We want to encourage as many people as possible to still go out, register, and exercise their democratic right to vote, despite the extraordinary circumstances. We cannot allow COVID-19 to stand in the way of our democracy,” she said.

Hontiveros added that senior citizens, other than Persons with Disabilities (PWDs), the most vulnerable populations to Covid-19, stand at around 9.1 million or approximately 14 percent of registered voters.

The proposed hike, Hontiveros said, will go to additional vote-counting machines (VCMs) to reduce the number of people allowed per cluster precinct. She said this will make it easier for social distancing to be observed and will also ensure that everyone gets to vote in a single day to avoid cheating and other anomalies, she said.

“We have to find the safest and most efficient option to retain the integrity of our elections. Hindi dapat maging opportunity ang pandemya para gumawa ng kalokohan,” she said.

The senator said a budget hike would also need appropriate accountability from the Comelec. “Siguraduhin ng Comelec na walang kikita sa pag-procure at pag-lease natin. Let’s keep this clean from start to end.”

Hontiveros added that the Comelec’s budget must also take into consideration a transition to online registration for the rest of the registration period (January 2021-September 2021) as a safety precaution and to facilitate opportunities for young people to register.

Voters aged 18-30 years old stand at 33 percent as of the 2019 midterm elections.

“This is a pandemic-response election that can dictate the direction and the acceleration of our recovery from this crisis,” Hontiveros said.

“Dapat siguraduhin natin na hindi mahaharang ang karapatan ng mamamayan. We must protect and respect the right to vote, which is the greatest key of our democracy,” she added.

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