By Maricel Cruz | Manila Standard
A committee in the House of Representatives on Thursday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend voter registration to October 31 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, during a hearing, adopted House Resolutions 2128 and 2139, extending the deadline to October 31 from the previous September 30 “to deter massive voter disenfranchisement amid COVID-19 pandemic.”
“The September 30 deadline was set before the COVID-19 pandemic and it now falls upon the Comelec’s prerogative to adjust the deadline due to the ramifications of the pandemic,” the measure read.
Meanwhile, the leader of the House minority bloc asked the Comelec to lay down its contingency plan soonest in preparation for the next year’s election.
House Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano acknowledged the need for a multi-day voting in the 2022 polls should the public health crisis escalate or at least maintain its current threatening level.
“Where’s the plan? We need to see how they will conduct the elections next year for us to understand the necessity of additional or higher budget for the commission,” the Abang Lingkod solon explained.
“The problem with the Comelec is its failure to present the election plan as to the conduct of next year’s polls during previous House hearings,” he added.
In filing the resolution, the Makabayan Bloc noted that the Enhanced Community Quarantine and Modified ECQ periods imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus caused the suspension of voter registration for months. The lockdowns affected even satellite registration period too, the group said.
“Considering the five-and-a-half month suspension which is equivalent to approximately 28.3 percent or 164 days of the voter registration period across the country and, after that, month-long suspensions in areas under ECQ and MECQ brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic (some areas, such as Metro Manila, lost up to 36.8 percent of the entire registration period), COMELEC has the prerogative to set the deadline of voter registration on a later date but before Jan. 9. 2022,” the resolution read.
The bloc also cited reports of limited registration slots, ineffective registration sites and lone lines due to staff shortage, prompting registrants to line up as early as four o’ clock in the morning; and that some 13.1 million prospective voters may be disenfranchised due to backlog.
“Thus, extending voter registration is all the more prudent thing to do and is already an imperative as we have just and heavier reasons to implement it now more than ever,” the resolution read.
As of August 27, Comelec said the number of registered voters for the May 2022 polls has already surpassed 60 million.
Paduano said the House committee on suffrage has been conducting hearings with the Comelec officials as resource persons and so it is but necessary for the Comelec to lay down its plans now.
“We would want to help the Comelec, but we need to see the plan, he reiterated.
Earlier, the Comelec lamented that proposals to hold a multi-day voting in 2022 would not be easy to fund given the “64 percent slash” in their proposed budget next year.
The commission had submitted a P41.992 billion proposed budget but the Department of Budget and Management only recommended P26.497 billion or 64 percent.”
The DBM has recommended P16.637 billion out of the P21.66 billion proposed budget which will cover election expenses for the May 9 national and local elections and the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan polls in December.
“We recognize the predicament of the commission, but we also need to know how and what they are going to do with the budget to ensure a safe, fair, peaceful and honest elections,” Paduano said.
The minority leader said exercising the constitutionally guaranteed right of suffrage of the Filipino voters “must not compromise their health and protection from COVID-19.”
On voter’s registration, Paduano said he supports the decision of the Comelec to proceed with it even in areas placed under modified enhanced community quarantine, “provided that proper safeguards and health protocols are strictly followed.”