By Ma. Reina Leanne Tolentino and William Depasupil | The Manila Times
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has agreed to extend the voter registration by another three weeks after the scheduled September 30 deadline.
Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas confirmed it Wednesday morning in a television interview ahead of the official declaration by the Commission en banc after it's regular session this Wednesday.
Abas said the voter registration extension period would be implemented for a period of 23 days or from October 9 to 31.
The Comelec chief pointed out that the scheduled September 30 deadline for voter registration would still be in effect.
He explained that the eight-day gap was agreed upon in consideration of the logistical and manpower needs during the filing of the Certificates of Candidacy (CoCs) from October 1 to 8.
The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will approve on Wednesday the extension of the voter registration period to Oct. 31, 2021, Surigao del Norte First District Rep. Francisco Jose Matugas 2nd said.
The lawmaker, a vice chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, broke the news during deliberations on the proposed 2022 national budget on Tuesday.
Matugas, who sponsored the proposed 2022 Comelec budget, said, "Before we proceed for interpellation, may I ask permission of the Madam Chairman to share a bit of good news that the Comelec will be approving tomorrow the extension of [the voter registration period] until October 31?"
"It will be approved tomorrow by [the Comelec] en banc," the lawmaker said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite suggested that the extension be also applied to overseas voter registration.
Matugas said he had received information from the Comelec chairman (Sheriff Abas) that the proposal for a 30-day extension of the overseas voter registration period will also be included for its "consideration tomorrow [in its] en banc meeting."
The extension of the voter registration period was also relayed to Sen. Maria Josefa Imelda "Imee" Marcos, citing a Comelec official as her source.
"Maraming salamat (Thank you), Comelec! Director Teopisto Elnas Jr. has just called me to inform us that the commissioners en banc will pass a resolution tomorrow (September 29) extending the registration period to October 31," Marcos said.
With the registration period sure to be extended, she voiced optimism that the number of voters in the 2022 elections could be the highest the country will see despite the pandemic.
The chairman of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation lauded the Comelec's move to override the original deadline for voter registration.
"The more voters, the louder the voice of the people and of God in next year's elections. Director Elnas has confirmed that the commissioners en banc will get the resolution done tomorrow," Marcos said.
More than 61 million new and returning voters have already registered, as of August, compared to over 61.8 million who cast their votes in the 2019 national and local elections.
Because of time and logistical constraints compounded by the coronavirus pandemic, the Comelec had hesitated to extend the voter registration period until the Senate on Tuesday approved on third and final reading a bill for that purpose.
Marcos noted that would-be voters continue to flock even before sunrise to Comelec's satellite centers where limited daily slots for registration are being offered, in keeping with health and safety protocols.
There is no legal impediment for President Rodrigo Duterte to sign a law seeking the extension of the voter registration period for the 2022 national elections, Malacañang said also on Tuesday.
Palace spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said they have yet to receive a transmitted copy of the proposed law, but he sees no objection to the signing of it.
"Wala pa po ang papel sa Malacañang pero wala pong nakikitang hadlang, unless sa pag-aaral ng legal department ng Office of the Executive Secretary ay mayroong legal objection (The document has not yet been transmitted to Malacañang, but we don't see any impediment, unless the legal department of the Office of the Executive Secretary will find legal objections)," Roque also said during a virtual news briefing.
"Pero sa tingin ko naman walang objection, but I stress hindi pa namin natatanggap 'yung pirmadong kopya ng panukalang batas na 'yan (I think there would be no objections, but I stress that we have not yet received a copy of that proposed law)," he added.
Both the Senate and the House have approved their respective bills seeking to extend for one month the voter registration period for the 2022 national elections.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said the proposal to extend the voter registration period may likely be granted.
"After consultation with Comelec officials, and in consideration of the public clamor, it is likely that an extension of the period of voter registration will be granted," Jimenez told reporters.
The poll body last week said it could only give a one-week extension limited to new registrants and voter reactivation after the September 30 deadline.
It earlier rejected calls for an extension, saying that closing the registration period at a later date would delay other preparations for next year's polls.
WITH REPORTS FROM BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO, CATHERINE S. VALENTE