CALASIAO, Pangasinan — Voting in malls was slammed by the people of Calasiao when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) conducted on Thursday its first of only three public hearings in Region held at the Robinson’s Place here.

The public hearing, spearheaded by Comelec Regional Director Noli Pipo, Assistant Regional Director Reddy Balarbar and Provincial Elections Supervisor Marino Salas, was to hear the voice of the residents of Barangay San Miguel, Calasiao on whether they favor to vote at Robinson’s Place on May 9.

Pipo explained that mall voting is an idea of Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista to allow voters cast their votes in the malls near them so that they will no longer line up in crowded classrooms in schools in their barangays.

This idea of the Comelec chairman was eventually put into a resolution en banc but in order to observe due process, public hearings must be conducted to hear the voice of the people on the issue, Pipo said.

“We are not here to campaign for mall voting but just listen to you,” clarified Pipo, addressing to the people who attended the public hearing.

But he said that the presence of the Robinson’s Place Calasiao is an opportunity itself and asked the people to take advantage of it to improve accessibility in polling places.

Robinson’s Place Calasiao is also one of the malls in Pangasinan where outside voting registration was held last year.

The Comelec regional and provincial offices are also set to conduct public hearings at the SM City Rosales in the morning of February 5 and at CB Mall in Urdaneta City.

“Whatever will come out in these public hearings will be reported to the Comelec Central Office in Manila for the consideration of the poll body’s en banc,” Pipo said.

Two clustered precincts, composed of 1,500 voters, will have to be transferred to Robinson’s Place Calasiao if the people gave their nod to mall voting.

But the other voters of Barangay San Miguel numbering more than 2,100 will still vote in the school in their village.

The hearing was reduced to a discussion between voting in malls and voting in schools, through the suggestion of Comelec Assistant Director Balarbar.

However, it appears that only one favored voting in mall while a vast majority of those who attended were not willing to part with their old tradition of casting their votes in schools which are often cramped up, over-crowded and hot.

Former Vice Mayor Ferdinand Galang was the first to question the wisdom of transferring some precincts to the Gokongwei-owned Robinson’s Place Calasiao, fearing a security problem might arise.

But, Provincial Elections Supervisor Salas that in the mall, policemen and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) personnel will have a designated area to stay and mall security personnel, although are around, will not interfere in their functions nor in the conduct of voting.

Some other speakers said if other voters are lining up and sweating inside cramped up rooms in public schools, all other voters of the town must not be excused and must also experience the same.

Salas argued that there are booths to be provided by mall management where voters will mark their ballots and there is also a wide area for voters waiting for their turn to cast their votes .

Transmission of the results will not be a problem, he said, since the malls have free wi-fi service unlike in many other schools.

Vice Mayor Roy Macanlalay, who is running for mayor of Calasiao, also agreed with the position of many in Calasiao not favoring mall voting.

He said this will prevent suspicion from his constituents hat the security guards in the mall will not play fair as these are employed by a security agency owned by his son. PNA/