"The poll body will rise to the challenge."
A close friend of mine has been planning to renew his voter’s registration. However, because of his work as a healthcare frontliner handling COVID-19 cases, he has not been able to do it. Unfortunately, he himself eventually caught the virus and has just recently recovered.
If the period for voter’s registration will not be extended, the last day to register to be able to vote for the May 9, 2022 elections is on September 30, or in less than a week’s time. My friend might not be able to register at all.
The COVID-19 pandemic has very seriously affected all of us since 2020. Because of this, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has suspended voter registration for six to eight months in different parts of the country because of COVID-19. In 2020, registration was suspended for almost six months nationwide. This year, because of the various quarantine restrictions, some areas have lost around 50 days of registration time.
Beyond the suspensions, people in general have been consciously limiting their trips outside. It is understandable if a lot of potential voters have been waiting for things to get better before doing that trip to COMELEC offices or other registration venues.
There are currently 62 million registered voters. However, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has projected as many as a 73-million voting population for the 2022 general elections. Thus, there may still be 11 million unregistered voters out there wanting to register, including my friend.
Certainly, we do not want 11 million voters to be disenfranchised. Because the deadline is very near, we hear of stories of people braving very long lines for many hours to register so they can exercise their right to vote.
Congress is rushing to pass a bill that will extend the registration period for one month. If this becomes a law, the new deadline will be October 31 from the current September 30. The Senate has approved the bill on Second Reading and there are reports saying that it is expected to approve it on Third and Final Reading on September 27. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms has just approved its version of the bill. Hopefully, the HOR will move fast in expediting its passage.
The COMELEC for its part has agreed for an extension but only for one week, or until October 8. The poll body cited the long time needed for, and complex process in relation with preparations needed for the elections. In fairness, they need to do many things such as printing of ballots; proper allocation of official ballots, election returns, and other election forms and paraphernalia; computerized voters’ list finalization; and preparation, bidding, printing, and distribution of Voter’s Information Sheet. Some say that automated elections need two years of preparation unlike the manual process that only needed around three months lead time.
However, the present law is not on COMELEC’s side on this issue. As Rep. Edcel Lagman pointed out, Republic Act (R.A.) 8189 passed in 1996 provides for continuing registration of voters the deadline of which is 120 days before the election day. Thus, for the May 9, 2022 elections, the actual deadline for voter’s registration should actually be January 9, 2022. This particular law was passed when the elections here were done manually and has not been updated since the shift to computerized elections. Moreover, R.A. 8189’s provisions were upheld by the Supreme Court itself in its December 2009 ruling in the case of Kabataan Party List vs. COMELEC.
Senators, in approving the bill on one-month voter registration extension, said that they think that this will not cause undue delay in the poll body’s preparations for the 2022 elections. This thinking is shared by the House Committee that approved its version of the bill.
The country’s capacity to deal with and eventually recover from this pandemic depends on the results of the 2022 elections. Our very lives are at stake here. We have huge problems in almost all aspects of our society – political, social justice, basic services, and economy to mention some. Our country needs a government that will protect and defend our sovereignty and territory. Our people need a government that will look after their welfare, respect their human rights, facilitate political participation, and help empower them to develop their potential as productive citizens. We need a government that will work for and with the people.
This is not an easy task. In fact, this is a huge ask.
Thus, we need our people to decide on our future. If the long lines for voters’ registration is any indication, our people are ready to make that crucial decision. The period of registration needs to be extended by at least a month. COMELEC may have difficulties regarding its preparations but we know that the poll body will rise to the challenge.
We cannot disenfranchise eleven million Filipinos. They deserve a say in the kind of administration that will steer the country in the next six crucial years. Eleven million is a huge number that can spell a major difference in the kind of future we will have.
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