By Edu Punay | The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines — House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday to heed calls to extend the voters’ registration period by one month for greater participation in next year’s polls.
In a statement, Velasco said the proposal in both chambers of Congress to extend the Sept. 30 deadline for registration up to Oct. 31 is necessary to ensure that every eligible Filipino can vote for their next president and new set of national and local leaders on May 9, 2022.
“The right to vote in an election is one essential part of the democratic process and Comelec is duty-bound to make sure that all eligible voters are able to register and exercise their right of suffrage,” he stressed.
The Speaker appealed to the Comelec after Friday night’s plenary approval of his bill which seeks to extend voter registration by one month from its deadline on Sept. 30.
House Bill No. 10261 was approved on second reading via voice vote during the virtual House session.
Earlier the same day, the House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms approved the measure filed by Velasco and rejected the Comelec’s proposal to limit the extension period for voter registration by only one week.
Comelec Commissioner Aimee Ferolino-Ampoloquio had told congressmen that a month-long extension would adversely affect their preparations, including the printing of ballots.
The commissioner also noted that six Comelec personnel have already died of COVID-19 and stretching the deadline further opens more people to the risk of infection.
“We see the lines, we see the people lining up trying to register,” she said.
But lawmakers, among them Majority Leader Martin Romualdez and Minority Leader Joseph Paduano, were not convinced by the argument.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga stressed that exposure to COVID-19 is not a valid excuse to shorten the extension period, saying officials and personnel of local government units are exposed to the virus daily.
The Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) has projected about 73 million qualified voters in the country, but only 62 million voters have registered so far with the Comelec.
Barzaga said the one-week period proposed by Comelec would not suffice to accommodate all voters and only defeat the purpose of an extension.
Yesterday, Velasco said the Comelec should not allow the democratic process of election to be stalled by the pandemic, which has the potential to cause massive voter disenfranchisement.
“Why do we have to make it so hard for people to register to vote? We urge the Comelec to make voting free, fair and easy. Extending the voter registration would allow our young people, as well as those who have been deactivated, to register and vote in next year’s elections,” Velasco said.
In the other chamber of Congress, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri said they are poised to adopt the House version of the measure extending the period of voter registration by one month.
“The discussion in the Senate is unanimous and the same with the House, which passed on second reading (the bill on voters’ registration),” Zubiri said in an interview over radio dwIZ.
“On Monday, we will pass (the measure) on the third reading… We have asked the House to pass the version wherein upon the approval of this act, another 30 days will be given as an extension to voters registration,” he added.
With the Senate adopting the House version, Congress will do away with holding the bicameral conference committee meeting, he said.
After approval by the Senate, the bill will be sent immediately to the Palace. “Hopefully, the President will immediately sign this measure as we see that the people want to register, especially new voters,” he said. – Cecille Suerte Felipe