The election watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) has expressed concern over the absence of a Commission on Elections (COMELEC)-initiated debate in Palawan to educate the province’s registered voters on the run up to the March 13 plebiscite.

Lawyer Ona Caritos, in an interview with Palawan News on Tuesday, observed that majority of the province’s registered voters who will be going to the polling places have limited understanding about the division of Palawan into three separate provinces since they have had little access to information, including the internet, due to the pandemic lockdowns.

Atty. Caritos said that this kind of election exercise is different compared to the usual election due to COVID-19 threat where “assemblies” are limited to 50 percent capacity.

“Unlike other elections or other electoral exercises na ‘yong madaming tao ‘yong nakaka-attend sa mga assemblies, sa mga pulong-pulong na inu-organize ng mga contenders pati ng COMELEC. Ngayong panahon dahil plebisito limited um-attend ng mga pulong-pulong and assemblies na to dahil nga sa IATF protocol so 50 percent lang. Hindi masyadong maraming nakakapunta,” Atty. Caritos said.

LENTE called on the poll body to conduct debates between the proponents and oppositors on the proposed division of Palawan through four major radio stations in the province.

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She also said that with only few Palaweños have access to internet, this has become a hindrance to vital information.

“Pangalawa, ang ginagamit na platform madalas ng mga proponents o mga oppositors o ng COMELEC ay online aside do’n sa pulong-pulong o face to face. Hindi naman lahat ng Palaweño ay may access sa internet o kung mayroong internet ay hindi ganoon kabilis. Hindi rin naman lahat nararating nitong online pulong-pulong nila,” Atty. Caritos added.

In a Facebook post, LENTE Philippines stated that the debate  between the proponents and oppositors before the plebiscite is necessary in order to ensure that more Palaweños have access to vital information.

“Kaya ang panawagan namin para mas maraming tao ang marating ng balita at impormasyon patungkol sa plebiscito ay mag sagawa ng debate ang COMELEC na kinabibilangan ng opponent at oppositor,” Caritos added.

LENTE proposed that the debates be done through the four major radio stations in the province.

The appeal, made through a formal letter, was signed by LENTE – Palawan State University (PSU) University Student Government, Palawan State University (PSU) Federation of Supreme Student Councils, Western Philippines University (WPU), University of the Philippines (UP) – Palaweños.

LENTE is the first nationwide network of volunteer lawyers, law students and paralegals trained and deployed to monitor elections in the Philippines. (with a report from Jeshyl Guiroy)

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is a desk editor and senior reporter of Palawan News. He covers politics, environment, tourism, justice, and sports. In his free time, he enjoys long walks with his dog, Bayani.