By MARIAN ALMENDRAS | Rappler
Yet they persevere to be able to choose the country’s next leaders: ‘I don’t want my family, city, and other people to ever experience…disaster and [government’s] lack of a response again’
With the deadline of voter registration looming, there has been a surge of voters in various registration sites. People have been lining up in the wee hours, waiting almost a whole day for their application to be completed.
Congress has been pressuring the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend the voter registration for a month, with the Senate threatening to delay the poll body's 2022 budget deliberations as leverage.
Critics of this call to extend the registration have been pointing out: You had almost two years to register, so why did they wait for the last minute to apply?
Well, aside from the fact that lockdowns took away six to eight months from the voter registration in some areas, these qualified voters from different regions have reasons. Based on the experiences they shared with Rappler, these included fear of going out unvaccinated, inefficient Comelec processes, and the frequent lockdowns and frequent changes in the national government's guidelines.
Unvaccinated and unclear guidelines
Kyra Mallari, a college student from Metro Manila, said she deferred voter registration as she was underage during the pandemic and was not able to access vaccines immediately.
It was “primarily due to the fear of catching the virus, earlier on in the pandemic, and spreading it also to my family,” she told Rappler.
Because of this, she had to make six attempts to register in the past week.
She went to the Comelec Bago Bantay One Office twice, Cloverleaf Mall, Trinoma Mall, and SM North EDSA twice to register, but she did not meet the cutoff even when she lined up early in the morning. On her sixth attempt, she arrived at her registration site at 2:45 am. She was then able to make the cutoff.
After consistently being rejected by four different registration sites, Kyra fought hard to secure a slot to vote because she understood “the power each vote has on the next steps our country takes.”
Chantal Chicano from North Caloocan was also not able to get vaccinated immediately and the looming fear of contracting the virus and contaminating some family members who had comorbidities prevented her from registering earlier.
Her barangay office “promised that they would register to become a Comelec satellite registration site,” but was unable to do so due to rising cases and lack of vaccinated people in the area.
On September 21, Chicano finally went to the Caloocan 1st District Comelec office to register, but was greeted by “angry and tired” voters-to-be who had already lined up starting 9 pm the night before.
Chicano’s fear of contracting the virus was further heightened because “social distancing was nonexistent and there seemed to be inefficient and inconsiderate processes present.” She noted that “more than half of the line staff and ushers didn’t know what they [were] doing.”
Despite experiencing “the worst queue of [her] life,” she persevered because she considered the upcoming elections to be “one of the most important in history” as the nation recovers from the economic, social, and political implications of the pandemic.
Jessica Leal from Bacolod was told she had to wait for six to eight hours to complete the whole process. It was difficult for her, being a student, to find enough time to devote to the process without compromising her academics.
“The chance to vote and choose the next set of leaders, [is] an opportunity for change and positive impact,” Leal shared. This is what motivated her to make the time to register, albeit a little late.
Delayed relief, registration in disaster-stricken areas
IJ Limpin from Albay said that, along with the pandemic, Typhoon Rolly, which caused mass destruction in his area, postponed voter registration in his city.
The typhoon severely damaged their homes and buildings in 2020. They suffered from city-wide power outages as electric posts were completely blown and electric wires were left hanging on the roads.
They were unable to repair the damage immediately because there was a scarcity of resources, and their city was only one of the many severely affected areas. “It was really a waiting game [because] resources weren’t as available [to us],” Limpin shared.
Stable electricity and lines of communication were only reestablished in December, over a month after the typhoon hit.
The destruction brought by Typhoon Rolly delayed Albay’s access to vaccines, and only a limited number was allocated to frontliners. Vaccination rollout for other categories only started in late June 2021, which also caused potential voters to delay registration due to fear of contracting the virus.
With the severity of the disaster, absence of immediate relief efforts, and lack of access to vaccines, Limpin said, “people [couldn’t] even think of [voter registration]” anymore.
Many offices and Comelec facilities were forced to shut down to give way to the city’s recovery and rehabilitation efforts. Why did he persist to register? “I don’t want my family, city, and other people to ever experience that type of disaster and lack of a response again,” Limpin said.
With a few days left until the original September 30 deadline for voter registration, many groups, advocates, and lawmakers continue their call to extend registration.
As of writing, the Comelec has changed its tune, saying a one-month extension of registration is most likely, according to lawmakers in communication with the poll body. – Rappler.com
Marian Almendras is a digital communications intern at Rappler. She is a junior at the Ateneo de Manila University.