NARRA, Palawan — The Palawan plebiscite, the first electoral process the Philippines hosted amid a global pandemic, deciding on a three-way split of the province, was a “success”, according to the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).
COMELEC spokesperson James Jimenez said on Saturday afternoon that despite a low voter turnout and delayed opening of polling precinct in Kalayaan town, the overall conduct of the plebiscite had been successful.
“The turnout is high considering itong ulan and concerns with COVID-19. By most of our parameters, successful ang ating plebisito dito sa Palawan,” Jimenez said in a phone interview.
The voter turnout, which was affected by the rainfall because of a low pressure area throughout the island province, stood at around around percent, according to Jimenez.
As of 5 p.m., the estimated voter turnout was between 50 to 60 percent, said Jomel Ordas, provincial Comelec spokesperson. A total of 2,956 clustered precincts were opened at 7 a.m. throughout 23 Palawan towns, with two established precincts in Kalayaan at the West Philippine Sea opening late because of logistical challenges.
“According to reports, all polling places opened on time, with the exception of Kalayaan where the opening of polls was delayed because of the late arrival of election supplies and paraphernalia,” Jimenez added.
With 281 registered voters, the two precincts in Barangay Pag-asa, Kalayaan town opened past 12:30 in the afternoon, and were extended until 5 p.m. The rest of the polling centers closed at 3 p.m.
On Friday evening, the boat ferrying the plebiscite paraphernalia and some Comelec officials reportedly turned around and were forced to go back to Puerto Princesa City after encountering huge waves almost 18 hours into its voyage at the West Philippine Sea.
“With only 200 registered voters in Kalayaan, it is expected that voting will be completed within the original allotted time, with voting hours being flexibly extended as needed, after the 3 p.m. deadline,” Jimenez said.
The Palawan plebiscite was a crucial move for the poll body, testing its capability to hold a safe and secure election amid threats of COVID-19 spread, in preparation for the 2022 national elections.
Under the “new normal” voting process introduced by the poll body, the temperature of the each voters were taken, along with their health declaration form, by local officials donning personal protective equipment.
Those who registered temperatures of 37.5 degrees Celsius or higher, or those who would exhibit symptoms, or would answer “yes” to any of the questions in the health declaration form, were assigned to cast their vote inside the isolation polling precincts in each village.
Only five individuals were allowed in each precinct to maintain the strict physical distancing protocol. Utility workers were also assigned in every polling center to sanitize the booths after each use.
Rural health workers, instead of the usual teachers, were tasked to man the isolation polling precincts. They were previously trained by Comelec officials on the election process.
In Barangay Tara, in the island municipality of Coron, certain barangay officials allegedly sabotaged the opposition by refusing to hand in health declaration forms of voters whom they believed will vote against the Palawan split.
“The matter was immediately responded to and voters were allowed to exercise their right of suffrage,” Jimenez said.
Winston Arzaga, provincial information officer, said the capitol, which is the main proponent of Palawan split, remained “positive” on the election result.
Arzaga, however, reiterated that they will “respect the decision of the people” citing that it is a “process that we have to respect”.
“Any forecast at this point and time is immaterial because the votes have been cast,” Arzaga added.
This, after the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay and No to Division campaign in Narra, staunch oppositors to the Palawan three-way split, claimed at least 70 percent of the local voters are against the division in two vote-rich municipalities. There are 36,272 registered voters in Narra, and 40,734 in Taytay. There are a total of 490,639 registered voters in the Palawan province.