KABATAAN PARTY LIST, et. al., Petitioners,
COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS, Respondent.
G.R. No. 221318 December 16, 2015
TOPIC: Biometrics validation
RA 10367 mandates the COMELEC to implement a mandatory biometrics registration system for new voters in order to establish a clean, complete, permanent, and updated list of voters through the adoption of biometric technology.
RA 10367 likewise directs that “registered voters whose biometrics have not been captured shall submit themselves for validation.” “Voters who fail to submit for validation on or before the last day of filing of application for registration for purposes of the May 2016 elections shall be deactivated x x x.”
COMELEC issued Resolution No. 9721 as amended by Resolutions No. 9863 and 10013. Among others, the said Resolution provides that: “the registration records of voters without biometrics data who failed to submit for validation on or before the last day of filing of applications for registration for the purpose of the May 9, 2016 National and Local Elections shall be deactivated.
Herein petitioners filed the instant petition with application for temporary restraining order (TRO) and/or writ of preliminary mandatory injunction (WPI) assailing the constitutionality of the biometrics validation requirement imposed under RA 10367, as well as COMELEC Resolution Nos. 9721, 9863, and 10013, all related thereto.
- Whether or not the statutory requirement of biometrics validation is an unconstitutional requirement of literacy and property.
- Whether or not biometrics validation passes the strict scrutiny test.
- Whether or not Resolution No. 9863 which fixed the deadline for validation on October 31, 2015 violates Section 8 of RA 8189.
FIRST ISSUE: No.
The Court held that biometrics validation is not a “qualification” to the exercise of the right of suffrage, but a mere aspect of the registration procedure, of which the State has the right to reasonably regulate.
The Court reiterated their ruling in several cases that registration regulates the exercise of the right of suffrage. It is not a qualification for such right. The process of registration is a procedural limitation on the right to vote.
Thus, although one is deemed to be a “qualified elector,” he must nonetheless still comply with the registration procedure in order to vote.
Thus, unless it is shown that a registration requirement rises to the level of a literacy, property or other substantive requirement as contemplated by the Framers of the Constitution -that is, one which propagates a socio-economic standard which is bereft of any rational basis to a person’s ability to intelligently cast his vote and to further the public good -the same cannot be struck down as unconstitutional, as in this case.
SECOND ISSUE: Yes.
In applying strict scrutiny, the focus is on the presence of compelling, rather than substantial, governmental interest and on the absence of less restrictive means for achieving that interest, and the burden befalls upon the State to prove the same.
Presence of compelling state interest
Respondents have shown that the biometrics validation requirement under RA 10367 advances a compelling state interest. It was precisely designed to facilitate the conduct of orderly, honest, and credible elections by containing -if not eliminating, the perennial problem of having flying voters, as well as dead and multiple registrants. The foregoing consideration is unquestionably a compelling state interest.
Biometrics validation is the least restrictive means for achieving the above-said interest
Section 6 of Resolution No. 9721 sets the procedure for biometrics validation, whereby the registered voter is only required to: (a) personally appear before the Office of the Election Officer; (b) present a competent evidence of identity; and (c) have his photo, signature, and fingerprints recorded.
Moreover, RA 10367 and Resolution No. 9721 did not mandate registered voters to submit themselves to validation every time there is an election. In fact, it only required the voter to undergo the validation process one (1) time, which shall remain effective in succeeding elections, provided that he remains an active voter.
Lastly, the failure to validate did not preclude deactivated voters from exercising their right to vote in the succeeding elections. To rectify such status, they could still apply for reactivation.
THIRD ISSUE: No.
Section 8 of RA 8189 provides that:
System of Continuing Registration of Voters. – x x x No registration shall, however, be conducted during the period starting one hundred twenty (120) days before a regular election and ninety (90) days before a special election.
The Court held that the 120-and 90-day periods stated therein refer to the prohibitive period beyond which voter registration may no longer be conducted. The subject provision does not mandate COMELEC to conduct voter registration up to such time; rather, it only provides a period which may not be reduced, but may be extended depending on the administrative necessities and other exigencies.