The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it is considering modifying its rules and processes for the 2022 national and local elections due to the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. These include the possibility of virtual debates among presidential candidates, safety protocols, and changes in absentee voting. 

In its first media briefing on the 2022 national and local elections on Friday, the poll body said that they expect that the pandemic will still be raging as they prepare for next year’s polls and during the election period itself. The first regular elections for the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao will also be held next year. 

As you all know, we have a committee on new normal which will handle on how the elections are prepared and how elections will be performed or done. We anticipate the elections will be happening while the COVID-19 is still there,” said Comelec Commissioner Marlon S. Casquejo during the briefing. 

There will be a conference on Monday to discuss how to proceed with the elections during the pandemic. Among the topics to be tackled is how to conduct the Presidential debates. Mr. Casquejo said Comelec is looking at “hybrid” options such as having only the candidates present at the debate venue; allowing a limited audience to attend the debates; or giving candidates the option to appear virtually during the debates. 

How candidates can campaign during the pandemic will also be discussed, as face-to-face campaigning is risky during a pandemic. The Comelec is studying how other countries have held their elections during the COVID-19 pandemicIt may introduce other campaign methods that the candidates can utilize. 

“As of now, the existing guidelines of the campaign is still face to face, however we are studying the possibility of modifying our rules in campaign since we have the pandemic,” said COMELEC Commissioner Aimee Ferolino-Ampoloquio in the same briefing. 

The Comelec also plans to release safety protocols for the filing of certificates of candidacy and is eyeing setting specific dates for the filing of these per elective position. The dates for the filing of certificates of candidacy and certificates of nomination and acceptance (for partylist aspirants) will be on Oct. 1 to 8 of this year. 

There will be 18,187 elective positions contested during next year’s polls 

The campaign period for the 2022 national and Local elections will begin on Jan. 7, 2022. The actual elections will be on May 9, 2022. 

The COMELEC said paper-based automated polls will be used again for next year’s elections. Absentee voting will apply for persons with disabilities and overseas Filipinos, but the poll body said it is also looking into who else can avail of absentee voting such as pregnant women. 

Next year’s elections will also have new features for ensuring the transparency of the elections. These include the use of digital signatures of the electoral boards on election returns when transmitting the votes to the canvassing center. Mr. Casquejo saithat this was supposed to be implemented during the 2016 national and local elections, but the government was not able to allocate enough funds for it. — Gillian M. Cortez