: Comelec officers: If you can party amid COVID-19, why can’t you register to vote?

By Gabriel Pabico Lalu |

MANILA, Philippines — Local Commission on Election (Comelec) officers have challenged Filipinos not yet registered to vote in the 2022 National Elections to visit their election offices if they can actually attend parties amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the #MagparehistroKa virtual town hall meeting on Thursday hosted by independent initiative Vote Pilipinas, Dagupan City, Pangasinan election officer and lawyer Michael Franks Sarmiento assured the public that Comelec offices are doing their best to make registration safe despite the pandemic’s threat.

“Ganito lang ‘yon: if you can afford to attend birthday celebrations amid a pandemic, eh mas mahalaga naman siguro na ipakita niyo ‘yong pagpapahalaga, ‘yong pagiging Pilipino niyo at ‘yong pagmamahal niyo sa bansa sa pamamagitan ng pagrehistro,” Sarmiento said.

‘Yong anxiety to go to our registration sites, basically nabawasan na ‘yan, ano naman, maganda naman ‘yong ating communication channels with our partners, such as DepEd, PNP, ‘yong ating mga media in terms of information dissemination,” he added.

Sarmiento and fellow election officer and lawyer Joseph Vega who works for Antipolo City, Rizal, stressed that one’s right and responsibility to vote must not end with registration, as people have to show up on election day itself.

“Of course it will not end sa pagrerehistro. After registration, of course we will encourage na bumoto sila, this is indispensable para marinig ng ating mga leaders kung ano ba talaga ‘yong gusto nating pagbabago,” Sarmiento said.

“‘Pag nagre-rehistro po, sana ang nasa isip talaga natin ay bumoto, sa Antipolo po kasi hindi naman kami nagkukulang minsan ng rehistro, ako na po ‘yong sumusuko minsan sa nagrerehistro, kaya lang dahil hindi po bumoboto, nababawasan po ‘yong botante, kasi natatanggal sila kapag twice (not able) to vote,” Vega added.

With the COVID-19 pandemic still infecting and killing hundreds of patients, the government remains wary of restarting activities that garner huge crowds. As a result, some shy away from registering to avoid possible coronavirus transmissions.

But the two election officers have assured their constituents that they are placing measures to ensure that health protocols are observed. In the case of Antipolo, Vega said that it was easier to monitor potential COVID-19 positive patients as the city’s contact tracing method was being used.

“Sa akin, challenge ‘yon kasi marami ‘yong nagrerehistro, so pinaka-una talaga naming ginawa, dapat safe talaga — ‘yong health safety standards, hindi lang minimum, maximum standards ang aming sinunod so ‘yong mga windows (bukas), may mga speakers na,” Vega said.

“Ang maganda kasi may partnership din with the LGU so meron silang mga QR code, so ‘yong pupunta ro’n kahit hindi na mag-fill up ng mga health declaration form kasi malalaman mo kung sino ‘yong pupunta, at tapos in partnership also with city health,” he added.

Sarmiento said that they have not used common desks for people looking to register, instead providing armchairs that would ensure physical distancing.

“So very smooth naman ‘yong ating registration, all safety protocols are in place, in fact with the help of our LGU counterparts, eh very strict po ang ating pag-implement ng ating social distancing and other safety protocols,” Sarmiento said.

“For Dagupan, we do not allow our registrants to share a common table, actually bumili kami ng mga upuan na merong armchair, you know, ‘yong ginagamit sa school, so that una, tipid siya sa space unlike sa mga big tables,” he added.

Latest data presented by Comelec spokesperson and Director James Jimenez during the online forum showed that there are around 60 million registered voters, including 4.3 million new voters.

While this number is within their expectations, Jimenez said that expect it to play between 61 million to 62 million before the registration ends on September 30. When asked if the numbers may breach 62 million, Jimenez answered that it is still possible but highly unlikely.

“Right now, as of last count we have around 60 million in the registry, that means we already have 60 million who are registered to vote. We are on track to reach around 61 million by 2022, which is good because 61 million was where we were at in the last elections in 2019,” he said.

Vote Pilipinas, a non-partisan initiative that urges Filipinos to register for the 2022 National Elections, launched its first of several town hall meetings on Thursday. The group’s objective is to provide aspiring voters crucial information for their registration by accessing their website here.