By Jigger Jerusalem, Julie Alipala | Inquirer.net
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY— As the October 30 deadline for registration of voters nears, top officials of the three Ateneo schools in Mindanao are urging the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to open more satellite registration centers for more voters to register.
Fr. Karel San Juan, president of the Ateneo de Zamboanga University (AdZU), Fr. Joel Tabora, president of the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU) and Fr. Mars Tan of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro, are joining hands as Mindanao Consortium of Ateneos (MCA) and offered their campuses in the cities of Zamboanga, Davao and Cagayan de Oro as voters’ registration sites.
Comelec has already registered 73 million qualified Filipino voters for next year’s elections, surpassing the 61 million registrants earlier targeted by the poll body but the consortium said millions more potential voters had yet to register.
“Around 10 million, many of them young people, are still unable to register for various reasons, including the risks brought about by the [COVID-19] pandemic,” the MCA said in a statement.
“Given only three weeks more to go, it’s a big challenge to reach out to the remaining unregistered qualified voters,” Fr. Tan said, referring to Comelec’s extended registration deadline on October 30.
He said the unregistered voters faced several challenges, which could include the physical distance to town centers and the threats brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“For those who live in remote areas, the distance and costly fare may discourage them from going. The pandemic also has kept many people from going out to register. This is true in areas where COVID-19 cases are rising. In fact in ECQ and MECQ areas, the registration has been suspended. That is why we are offering Ateneo spaces and making an appeal to Comelec for more satellite units,” Tan added.
In their joint statement, the three Ateneo presidents urged Comelec to increase the number of satellite voter registration centers by partnering with universities and colleges. The MCA said they were also persuading other educational institutions to join their call.
Fr. Joel Tabora, president of the Ateneo de Davao University (AdDU), echoed the growing frustration of Filipinos over the daily registration cap set by Comelec, which only “dispirited” first-time voters to register, instead of encouraging them.
He said the Ateneo schools decided to open their campuses as registration sites to accommodate the millions of registrants who failed to register when Comelec reportedly limited its daily registration quota to only 150 to 300 persons.
“We received reports showing that some Comelec centers not only close earlier than the extended registration hour of 7 p.m. but also disrespect the fast-tracking mechanisms by not making use of the online pre-registration forms,” Tabora said.
Fr. Karel San Juan, Ateneo de Zamboanga president, said the right to vote and the right to health were equally important and should be respected. “(We should ensure) that people are able to cast their votes and (should be safe) from [COVID-19]. Disenfranchisement must be avoided as we avoid the deadly virus,” San Juan said.
Tan assured that the campuses would ensure minimum health standards if Comelec would tap Ateneo schools as voter registration sites.
“Schools will employ the same safety protocols as when they opened their doors to help out in the vaccination rollout,” Tan said. “Exploring mobile registration activities to remote areas can also be an option to make registration accessible to voters in the margins.”
The three presidents also lauded the passage of Republic Act 11591 or the Act fixing the last day of registration of voters for the 2022 national and local elections. They said they were committed to campaign for a more vigorous registration activity in their respective areas.
MCA also called for the timely release of the 2022 election guidelines so that the country could start preparing for the electoral exercise given the pandemic.