The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has decided not to require voters, especially the marginalized sectors and indigenous peoples in the province of Palawan to wear face shields before they cast their votes for the March 13 plebiscite.
Election Officer II Juan F. Gonzales of the Office of the Election Officer (OEO) Kalayaan-Palawan said the poll body’s new directive is aimed at benefiting the “vulnerable sectors” in the island province, especially the IPs who live in far-flung areas and do not have the capacity to buy face shields.
“Bago lang po ang kautusan na ito na hindi na required ang pagsusuot ng face shield kasi base sa mga consultation natin para na rin po ito sa mga marginalized sectors natin at mga what is this, vulnerable sectors natin na baka naman madeprived sila to vote (This directive is new, the wearing of face shield is not required because based on our consultation, this is for the benefit of our marginalized sectors and the vulnerable sectors, they might be deprived to vote),” he said in a virtual press briefing on Thursday, Feb. 25.
He said the Comelec recognized the plight of the IPs and other voters who are living in far-flung islands, and the people’s lack of access to face shields in those areas.
“Alam naman natin ang situation ng Palawan. We are divided by islands. wala sila mabilihan doon. Baka iyon ang maging dahilan ang hindi nila pagboboto. Or yung mga tao natin sa kabundukan, mga kapatid nating mga katutubo na wala na ngang pambili ng bigas, para na din po sa equal nilang karapatan, (We know the situation in Palawan. We are divided by islands, face shields are not available there. It might be reason for them not to vote. Or those people in the mountains, our IP brothers who cannot buy rice, this is to ensure equal rights for them.) ” Gonzales said.
Though, he clarified that the Comelec continued to “encourage” the voters to use face shields, especially those who have the means to buy their own protective equipment.
“Magsuot tayo ng ating mga face shield para na din sa ating kaligtasan at kaligtasan na din po ng ating kapwang botante (Let’s us wear face shield for our safety and that of our fellow voters),” Gonzales said.
He reminded that all voters are required to wear face masks, before entering the polling precinct or voting centers.
“Inuulit ko po ‘yung pagsusuot ng face shield ay hindi na required pero ineencourage pa din kayo para sa inyong health security (I repeat, the wearing of face shield is not required, but we encourage you to wear it for your health security),” the poll official said.
In its Resolution No. 10687, the Comelec requires voters to wear face masks and face shields before they enter the polling place.
The poll body originally scheduled the conduct of the plebiscite to ratify the division of the province of Palawan into Palawan del Norte, Palawan Oriental, and Palawan del Sur on May 11, 2020 as provided under Republic Act No. 11259.
In April 2020, the Comelec suspended the May 11 plebiscite due to the pandemic and the Enhanced Community Quarantine in Luzon.
On October 8, 2020, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) approved the proposal to already hold the plebiscite in Palawan.
The poll body then set the plebiscite on March 13, 2021.