MANILA – Commission on Elections (Comelec) Director James Jimenez on Thursday made it quite clear that the poll body's officials are determined to go to great lengths to encourage voters to register.
Jimenez said the Comelec will go on a road trip on foot, dubbed "Walkah-walkah: Step Juan tungo sa mulat na botante" starting May 6, with the end in view of getting some 3 million new voters to register for the 2016 elections.
"The point is to get the message out, that’s the main thing. If it takes walking to cut through the clutter of everything that everyone is concerned about nowadays then it’s something worth doing," Jimenez told ANC "Primetime."
It also aims for some 9.6 million registered voters to submit their biometrics data, which is needed for them to exercise their right to vote in 2016.
"They won’t be able to vote if they don’t register their biometric information," Jimenez said, adding that the bulk of these 9.6 million are those who registered before 2004.
The Comelec has scheduled a 17-month registration period, from May this year to October next year, Jimenez said.
"We’re open on Sundays, which is something that we have not done in quite a while. So there are no more excuses, we’d like to think," he said. "That’s the kind of preparation we’re putting in place."
'Where to, walkah-walkah?'
Jimenez explained how the Comelec will go about on its road trip, which will kick off on May 6.
"We’re taking it by the leg, so to speak. We’re looking at the step off on May 6, coming to Manila by the beginning of June, and from there we’re going to do the other legs," he said.
According to Jimenez, they will be walking from Laoag to Manila; Manila to Sorsogon; and then from Sorsogon, they are still deciding whether to cut across the Visayas or to go straight to Mindanao.
It won't be a straight walk, however.
"There are three major events: one in Laoag where we’re starting, one in Tarlac where we’re going to have a registration clinic for Aetas there, and when we get to Manila we have an affair for PWDs as well," he said.
Jimenez said that in between the major events, they have landmark stops where they will talk at length about concerns like the biometrics system, voter registration, the right to vote, and the value the people put into their vote.
On the biometrics issue, Jimenez said they need to explain what it is and how it will work to prevent fraud. On the right to vote, Jimenez said some people don’t vote for fear that other people might find out who they voted for.
"That dampens the enthusiasm for voting so we need to remind them what voter’s secrecy is for. It’s not just about keeping it secret, it’s actually about your own choice," he said.
Voters, he said, also need to understand the value of their vote, that it is not a "transient thing."
"The vote is actually something that they are handing down to the people who will follow them. It’s a kind of legacy. Correct voting is a kind of legacy that they can leave their children… that we’re all in fact, inheritors of the choices our parents made at the ballot box," he said.
Walking, Jimenez said, is "a representative of the determination to get somewhere."
"Voting is normally something that people find to be something of a hassle. They don’t want to take the effort. When you walk, you take the effort and it showcases your determination to do that and that’s what we want to impart to the people," he said.
Jimenez said the Comelec is working on ways to make voting easier and make sure everyone will be exercising their right to vote, with as little difficulty as possible.
"One of our plans for 2016 is to have special precincts for PWDs and we’re going set that up away from the regular precincts. That’s all in the works for 2016," he said.
‘Who will walkah-walkah?’
Jimenez said Step Juan, who is actually Tomas Leonor -- another fellow who walks for charity – will be walking with him.
"I think in 2010 it was, he raised money for cancer awareness and so we sort of teamed up for this… he’s supporting this endeavor completely," he said.
Asked why the Comelec opted for going "old school" in wooing voters to register, Jimenez said drawing on traditions is "very important."
"We have to maintain people’s belief in the electoral system. Elections need commitment. ..The reason we’re doing this is we want to get in touch with the people, at the same time we will be sending stories out to the social media, to news outlets, because we want to share what we see on the ground with everyone at the national level," he said.