Bare Truth by Rose de la Cruz
Bare Truth

The need to extend voter registration

Sep 11, 2021, 5:12 AM
Rose De La Cruz

Rose De La Cruz

Columnist

I went early to the Commission on Election field office in Bago Bantay, Quezon City because the website says Comelec field offices are open on Saturdays.

But no, the office we went to is closed even on Monday and it opens only on Tuesday to Friday. Huh, at a time when voter registration is nearing the September 30 deadline.

If these offices can only open for four days—why the hell should Comelec field offices be closed on Monday perhaps for disinfection which can be done on a Saturday and Sunday—then Comelec must extend its office hours beyond 5 p.m.

Or it can consider extending the deadline by 15 days to another month, to say October 31.

At the Trinoma, where my son and I queued (me for my change of address and my son for voting for the first time) I noticed so much interest to register among the youth, the future of this country.

It only indicates that either:a) they are frustrated with how their government is managing the crisis, the economy, the Philippine territory, or they want decency to be revived in governance or b) I hope I am wrong but maybe many of them might still want the status quo to remain.

Anyway, back to how the registration process is being handled, there seems to be no rhyme or rhythm to it (just like there is no system in how this administration is handling the pandemic).

People queue for hours—like I did—waiting for the mall to open and the Comelec people to arrive with the necessary forms (regardless, if you registered using a QR Code) the physical paper form is still required.

The guards are the ones that tell you—just when you have waited long—that only District 1 will be entertained. I stayed on hoping against hope that I would succeed in registering under a new address.

Just when I reached the table of the Comelec personnel at the taxi bay of Trinoma, I was told that I should go to Fairview Villa where registration for my current district is ongoing.

During our hours-long wait, the guard that kept counting the people on the line repeatedly had to count because each time, the numbers change.

What should have been done is for Comelec to supply the guard managing the line with the numbers to be given to people so that there would be chance for ‘singitan.’

It delights me to see that despite the long wait, people are still interested to get registered to vote—and I hope they vote wisely and according to their consciences instead of getting swayed by guns, goons and gold—and it made me feel that perhaps, there is still hope for change in this country.

Not true

Last August 19, Comelec junked a Senate resolution calling for a month-long extension of voters’ registration for the May 22 elections amid postponements due to the pandemic (and the concomitant lockdowns declared by the pandemic task force) and days when Comelec had to shut down for disinfections (up to the present).

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said instead of extending the deadline, the poll body prolonged the voter’s registration hours for the last 42 days until Sept. 30. But this is not true.

Citing public health concerns and preparations for next year’s elections, Jimenez said voter registration would also be open on Saturdays and holidays, again not true.

“The en banc, citing concerns about the timeline of preparations for the 2022 national and local elections and the continuing apprehensions about the health and safety of the public and Comelec personnel, decided against extending the voter’s registration period beyond Sept. 30, 2021,” he said.

Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Francis Pangilinan, Nancy Binay, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros and Joel Villanueva urged the Comelec to extend registration to Oct. 31 to avoid “voter disenfranchisement” due to the pandemic. The senators’ points are very valid.

‘Reconsider decision’

Pangilinan asked the Comelec to reconsider its decision to reject calls for registration extension and consider all the lost days due to the community quarantines.

He reiterated that Sept. 30 was a “pre-pandemic” deadline and appealed to the Comelec to adapt and adjust to the pandemic situation to avoid the disenfranchisement of millions of Filipino voters.

“We regret that the Comelec did not heed the clamor to extend the registration period despite the glaring numbers of lost registration days due to the pandemic. We strongly feel that the pre-pandemic deadline is no longer applicable today,” he said.

Data showed that in 2020, about 28.3 percent of days dedicated to voter registration were lost because of work suspensions due to COVID-19. Metro Manila lost 38.6 percent of the registration period.

This year, voter’s registration was suspended twice in the NCR Plus and other highly urbanized areas.

“Four out of 10 registration days were lost during the five-and-a-half-month voter’s registration suspension in 2020. We should make up for this lost time by extending the registration period. An estimated 13.3 million of our compatriots have not yet registered.

If the deadline is not extended, they may run out of time and not be able to register and exercise their right to vote in 2022,” Pangilinan said.

If the situation in voters’ registration could be as confusing and messy in Quezon City, I wonder how much more for the remote provinces of the country, and those that are experiencing difficult times from the typhoons (but whose residents would still dutifully try to get registered regardless of their personal worries).

“We are grateful to the Comelec for approving the extension of the registration time, as well as the opening of the office on Saturdays and holidays. Maybe it can grant the request of our compatriots to extend the deadline to at least two more weeks,” he said.

No senator please go to the Comelec offices and check if they operate on extended hours and on Saturdays. They do not.


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