By John Victor D. Ordoñez

THE COMMISSION on Elections (Comelec) has allowed senior government officials and their bodyguards to carry firearms during the election period, exempting them from the election gun ban, according to its chairman.

“I don’t want a senior government official to get injured or lose his life from an armed assailant simply because he cannot defend himself with his own fireman due to the gun ban,” Comelec Chairman Saidamen B. Pangarungan told a news briefing on Monday.

Among those exempted were the vice-president, lawmakers, magistrates, bureaucrats and election officers who have a license to own a gun. The president is already exempted from the gun ban, he added.

Mr. Pangarungan said Comelec changed the gun ban rules promulgated last year due to the large volume of requests for exemptions.

Under an order issued on Nov. 10 last year, only policemen, soldiers and other law enforcers deputized by Comelec may carry guns during the election period.

Election Commissioner George Erwin M. Garcia earlier said the election body would decentralize the filing and processing of applications for exemption to its regional offices.

The amendment also allows the Comelec chief to place election areas of concern under the agency’s control.

Meanwhile, exit polls on the first day of overseas voting on Sunday have gone viral on social media.

“If the exit poll will undermine the integrity of the election process, that will be the subject of investigation,” Mr. Garcia told the same briefing. He said people should focus on the official results after the May 9 elections.

One post on Twitter claimed former Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. dominated the first day of overseas voting in Hong Kong.

“It will be difficult If we believe all of these, which trend online and maybe a way to influence [voting],” he said in Filipino. “What is important is our citizens vote based on their conscience and free from influence.”

A Facebook post of a Filipino voter based in Singapore claiming she had received a pre-shaded ballot also went viral. “We haven’t received any report on this post even from our officials based in Singapore, and therefore it is fake news,” Mr. Garcia said.

In a Facebook post, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore said it was aware of an incident where one “spoiled ballot” was inadvertently given to a voter during Monday’s election, which it called an “isolated incident.”

Election Commissioner Marlon S. Casquejo said Comelec plans to double the five vote counting machines in Hong Kong due to the influx of voters during the first overseas voting on Sunday.

He said three of 92 overseas posts failed to start the election on Sunday due to coronavirus lockdowns and transportation issues.

“The opening of polls was generally peaceful and successful, except for some issues that were unavoidable due to coronavirus situations,” he told the briefing.

Also on Monday, the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) called on Filipinos to monitor all phases of the election process to ensure transparent, free and fair elections.

In a statement, Namfrel said citizens need not join political parties or election watchdogs to become election observers. “Any Filipino can be a citizen election observer.”

“Active vigilance, critical engagement, and assistance to the Comelec as it prepares for the polls, and citizens’ observation of the process are assurances that will help dispel fears of cheating during the vote count and manipulation in the coming elections,” it said.