Comelec may raise 10% limit for physical campaign rallies if pandemic situation improves

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 9) — The Commission on Elections said it is open to allowing bigger crowds during face-to-face events for the 2022 campaign season.

"New normal" guidelines approved by the commission require that attendees in physical gatherings should be limited to 10% of a venue's capacity. Lawmakers said this was inflexible and is hard to implement on the ground.

Minors and those aged 65 and up cannot attend these face-to-face events, according to Comelec's draft rules. Food and refreshments cannot be served there.

In-person attendees should wear a face mask and face shield, go through health screening, stand one meter apart, and follow all other relevant protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, the Department of Health, and local government units.

"Parang hindi realistic 'yan when it comes to highly urbanized cities. Ang mga meeting diyan, sa kalye. How will you determine 10% capacity noong mga kalye?" Caloocan City Rep. Edgar Erice said during a Thursday hearing of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms.

Iloilo Rep. Lorenz Defensor added that campaign events involving big personalities, guest celebrities and performers would always generate big crowds. "Kapag dumating na po kasi si Coco Martin, sigurado ang maximum na 10% ng venue, may dadaan at dadaan diyan [When Coco Martin arrives, surely people will flock even when there's a 10% limit]," he said.

The solon noted that the limit of three candidates per physical campaign rally is also too low, especially for local parties presenting full slates including councilors and board members.

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However, Comelec Commissioner Antonio Kho, Jr. said the guidelines are still being finalized, and subsequent resolutions to be issued weeks ahead of campaign period would factor in latest developments.

"When we approached this in preparing the manual, we were basically looking at a worst-case scenario... Napaka-fluid kasi ng COVID situation natin, so hindi natin talaga ma-anticipate what if a month from today or two months from today, anong mangyayari [Our COVID situation is very fluid, it's hard to anticipate what will happen one or two months from today]," Kho told lawmakers.

"'Yun pong 10%, 'yung mga number of candidates, 'yun ang nilagay namin [That 10% and the number of candidates, we included that] to maximize the situation. Eventually, as we go along, kung 'yung COVID situation naman [if the COVID situation] would be better than today, then definitely this would adjust," he added.

Parts of the country remain under lockdown this month due to surging COVID-19 cases. It was also only this month when Comelec allowed voter registration to resume in areas under modified enhanced community quarantine weeks ahead of the Sept. 30 deadline.

Members of the House panel suggested to restrict the appearances of guest celebrities for better crowd control, and to add a cap of 50-100 attendees in the case of big convention centers and event spaces.

Whenever possible, Comelec said candidates should resort to e-rallies and video livestreams for campaigning as the COVID-19 outbreak remains uncontained.

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Meanwhile, the poll body is set to conduct a simulation of the May 9 election day on Sept. 19 covering four clustered precincts and over 2,700 voters in Pasay City.

Rules provide that only five people can vote at a time to observe physical distancing. They must wear face masks and face shields, undergo a temperature check, and fill up a health declaration form before entry. Comelec said it wants to see the voting process and the lines that will form as voters wait for their turn.