By Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat | Manila Bulletin
Business groups and academe jointly asked the Commission on Election (COMELEC) to reconsider its earlier decision to keep the voter registration deadline at September 30, 2021, and instead appeal for its extension by one month to October 31, 2021, when public quarantine conditions shall have been relaxed and people can move about in somewhat greater safety.
In a joint statement, over 100 groups have signed the letter justifying the need for the extension of voter registration.
Primarily, the groups said that covid-19 pandemic and the corresponding community quarantines of the past 18 months – particularly their concomitant adverse effects on health and livelihood – have posed innumerable, exigent, basic-needs challenges to our people as never before. Pressed by anxiety over immediate existential concerns, many Filipinos have not been afforded the time and mental leeway to register to vote.
Even those not immediately threatened existentially are dissuaded from responding to COMELEC’s registration drives owing to the risks of catching the disease, the uncertainty of getting effective treatment, and the need to adjust to changing public quarantine guidelines in what is a rapidly developing situation, the groups pointed out.
In addition, they said that the progress in the rate of vaccination, while encouraging, is fairly recent and fails to address the risks for the majority. In particular, it fails to assuage the health concerns of the many millions of younger would-be voters who are not among the priority sectors for vaccination.
“Against this reality, we urge the Commission to use the utmost flexibility and human understanding in its decisions to afford all eligible Filipino citizens the chance to exercise their most fundamental and sacred right in a democracy – the right to choose their representatives in government,” the groups said.
They commended the COMELEC for using satellite sites such as school campuses, shopping malls, and other public and private institutions to facilitate voter registration, but also stressed that with so many eligible Filipinos still unregistered, it is reasonable to increase not only the number of satellite sites but also the number of voter registration days. “We note that the cut-off date for voter registration in 2010, 2013, and 2016 was October 31. If an exigency justifies an extension, then certainly this once-in-a-lifetime crisis is one that calls for it,” they said.
“Again, we appeal to the Commission to reconsider its decision on behalf especially of the Filipino youth who are just coming of age and will be first-time voters in the 2022 elections. Please provide them the opportunity to exercise their civic duty and show their love of country. Citizens should not be asked to choose between risking their health and fulfilling their constitutional duty.”