By RHIA GRANA | ANCX
Getting registered to vote in the 2022 elections has been extra challenging, and that’s putting it mildly
Since 2020 started, I’ve been planning to reactivate and transfer my voter’s record from my hometown Cavite to my current barangay in Quezon City. But since the lockdown and quarantine regulations had me staying with my elderly mother in Imus for most of last year, that plan was pushed back. And then there was also waiting for the Covid situation to get better, which did not happen. In short, before I knew it, it’s the final month for voters’ registration.
It’s been challenging to find time for it given the nature of media work. When I found out you can schedule a COMELEC visit online, all slots were already taken until the very end of September. The only option left was to take a chance via walk-in registration.
Day 1: Only 300 allowed
So when I had one less hectic weekday, I mustered the courage to go to the COMELEC Office in Brgy. Bago Bantay in QC. I arrived at the venue before 9AM. Fear and paranoia set in as soon as I saw people swarming at the entrance, inquiring about schedules and requirements. What if some of them are Covid-carriers? The possibility of contracting the virus felt so real, even if I had already been fully vaxxed.
After finding out the office had reached their cutoff 300 applicants for the day, I decided to head home and watch out for satellite voter registration schedules.
Day 2: Still no luck
The day was Friday. My husband Gerald and I left home at 4:30AM so we can be at SM North Edsa by 5. I brought printouts of my registration form and photocopies of my government ID, along with other documents I might need. As soon as we got off the car, we saw two lines—one long, one short. The short, I found out, was for senior citizens, pregnant women, and PWDs. The long line was for ordinary folk. I asked the first person in the long line, the earliest bird, what time he got to the venue. He had been camping outside SM since 11PM, he said. ‘Wow, ibang level!’ I thought.
I looked for the end of the line in a queue that went around SM North Edsa and was shocked to find out how long the line already was. Many of the voter registrants were Gen Zs, first-time voters. Halfway thru the endless queue, I had this feeling I wouldn’t be able to make it here again if COMELEC would only accommodate 300 people. I decided to wait and take a chance. I wasn’t able to bring anything to sit on so I sat on the sidewalk pavement like the others.
Before 9AM, one of the guards announced COMELEC had already reached the cutoff of 500 applicants for the day and requested those who failed to make the cut to head home. Next schedule would be at Ayala Malls Vertis North the next day. Tired, hungry and feeling sticky, my husband and I headed home—but with a strong resolve to be at Vertis Mall as early as 2AM the next day.
Day 3: Chaos at the queue
I barely slept the night of September 24. The last time I woke up this early was for simbang gabi B.C. (before Covid). As soon as the alarm sounded at 1AM, I rose and woke my husband up for breakfast. I had a mental checklist of what to bring: the requirements for voters’ registration, 2 tumblers with water, another tumbler with coffee, an old mat we could sit on, biscuits, my gadgets and chargers. I might end up doing work on site if the waiting dragged on.
We arrived at the venue around 2:15AM. While most insomniacs are just about to call it a night, there were already throngs of people waiting near the Vertis main entrance. There were about a hundred seats outside and all of them were occupied. All geared up complete with face mask and face shield, I looked for the last person standing in each of the five lines. Gerald proceeded towards the entrance to update me about the goings-on. After a few moments, the mall guards started counting the people in line, and I heaved a sigh of relief when I was named No. 237.
People still came in droves after that. By this time, the guards announcing there’s no guarantee COMELEC will accommodate any more than the initial 300. Everything was so far orderly and people followed the guards’ instructions—observe social distancing, move forward, move backward, “Wag magpasingit sa linya.” One security guard repeatedly announced with his megaphone: “For District 2 lang ang registration ngayon. Kung ibang district kayo, umuwi na po tayo. Hindi po ngayon ang schedule ninyo.”
I sat on my mat and brought out my coffee and biscuits. This was still way better than my SM North experience, I thought. There is a bigger waiting area and we were sitting on a tiled pavement.
Past 6AM, the crowd started to become unruly. A group from Payatas wearing hijab who came later than us started cutting the lines. There were more than five lines now. The guards who were assisting us had already turned over their task to a new set of guards on duty. One of them asked our group (the ones who arrived as early as 2AM) to follow him, and we later realized we were being ushered to the end of the line. The people from Payatas who came later are now ahead of us in the queue.
Exhausted, hungry, and sleepy, the crowd went wild. “Kanina nasa 100-plus ako, ngayon malapit na ako sa 300?!!” bellowed a voice. “Kuya, magbigay na kasi kayo ng stub para may number na at walang sumisingit,” another person told the guard. I quietly watched the commotion. All I wanted was assurance that I was still part of the 300. Many were calling out the women who cut the lines. “Hoy, mahiya naman kayo! Nauna kaming dumating sa inyo!” the others roared. “Kanina pa kami dito!” the other camp answered with even louder voices.
Chaos followed as everyone left their respective lines and joined the fray. Is this what makes for a superspreader event? The guards tried to pacify the crowd. “Bumalik kayo sa puwesto niyo kung ayaw nyong i-cancel namin ang registration!” We walked back to the end of the line sulking. We were later assured we were still counted as part of the 300.
The lines started moving past 8AM. As per my husband, who was observing in the area near the guards, the senior citizens, PWDs, pregnant women, and medical frontliners were allowed to enter around 8:15 and ordinary folks by 9AM. By this time, one of the COMELEC staff started checking the requirements and giving away number stubs. Those who had incomplete requirements were sent home, which included some of the folks who cut the lines. Karma, I thought. I’m now No. 256. After about an hour, I got to sit in one of the chairs. What a relief!
Our batch got to enter the mall before 12noon. The voters’ registration was held at the cinema lobby located at Level 4. There were guards ushering and more importantly, there were seats and cooling fans in the waiting areas. By 1PM, I was waiting to have my biometrics taken. I finished the whole process around 1:20PM.
I asked a few people I met why they even decided to register, with all the extra difficulties the process now entails: waking up extraordinarily early, risking contracting the Covid virus while waiting in line.
A female college student told me, “Kasi po nakaka-depress na ang nangyayari sa bansa natin. Yung response sa pandemic,” she said. “Sa education na lang e. Dalawang bansa na lang ang gumagawa ng online class—Philippines at Venezuela. Super hirap po.” Like for many in the crowd the past two days, it’s going to be her first time to vote and she wants her voice to count.
But there were those who were there for a different reason, I discovered: they endured the lack of sleep and long waiting hours because voters’ registration is a requirement for getting their ayuda from the government.
As for me, my disgust towards trapos have pushed me away from participating in the last few elections. In my mind, there was very little my vote could do to change the state of governance in this country. But the last few years have been an an eye-opener. The last few years made me realize how crucial it is to exercise my right of suffrage. The stakes are extremely high in this upcoming election. I’m hoping we get a truly worthy candidate to vote for. I sure didn’t wake up terribly early and risk getting sick just to end up voting for people who will give us more of the same.
For those who are planning to register, you still have four days. Before going to battle, here are some tips:
You may follow this Radyo COMELEC thread for the guidelines.
• 3 copies of the filled-out voter’s registration form
• A signed health declaration form
• Photocopy of a valid government ID (bring the actual ID as well)
• Other pertinent documents (in case of a name change, change of citizenship etc.)
• Pens (best not to borrow)
• Extra face mask and face shield
• Wet wipes or tissue
• Face towel
• Mat to sit on
• Drinking water
• Coffee (to keep you awake)
• Something to eat (sandwich or biscuits)
• Something to keep you from getting bored
• Battery pack for your cell phone
Photos by Gerald and Rhia Grana