MANILA (UPDATE) — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will not extend the deadline for voter registration, set until Sept. 30, despite calls from various sectors who have cited over 100 days lost in the registration period due to lockdowns in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Citing operational concerns, particularly with the timeline associated with the preparations for the 2022 elections, the Commission en banc voted, by majority vote, not to extend the registration period," Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said Wednesday.
As a compromise, the poll body will be extending registration hours, and its local offices will be open on Saturdays and holidays, with 43 days remaining before the deadline.
"However, the commission did unanimously approve a package of modifications that was proposed by the Comelec Election and Barangay Affairs Department that would allow people to register even on Saturdays and holidays for the remainder of the registration period," said Jimenez.
The Comelec has surpassed its goal of achieving 4 million new voters, Jimenez told ABS-CBN's Teleradyo Thursday.
The country is "on track" to have a total of 61 million voters in next year's polls, he added.
"Nabigyan natin ng napakaraming tsansa ang mga botante nating gusto magrehistro...Enough na itong opportunities na binibigay natin," he said.
(We've given voters enough chances to register...These opportunities we've been giving is enough.)
"Itutuloy-tuloy lang natin ang schedules natin, wala na tayong maia-adjust dyan," he added when asked if the Comelec would make adjustments if the strict lockdown in Metro Manila was extended.
(We will continue our schedules, we cannot adjust it further.)
Commissioner Rowena Guanzon earlier told ABS-CBN News an extension was not possible because Comelec has to finalize the project of precincts in December. The elections will be held May 9 next year.
The project of precincts identifies each clustered precinct and its corresponding polling place/polling center and assigned voters.
Jimenez said a resolution will be released by the poll body soon, which will contain details of the en banc decision, including the possible opening of registration at Comelec offices before 8 a.m.
Senator Risa Hontiveros said she is saddened by the decision but welcomes the proposed extension of registration hours.
"Muli akong nananawagan sa mga first time voters na, habang naka-ECQ, mag-pre-register muna online para mabilis ang proseso kapag pwede na ulit pumila sa COMELEC offices," she said.
"Para naman doon sa mga first time voters na nasa lugar na hindi suspendido ang voter registration, pumila na at magparehistro. Huwag palampasin ang pagkakataong makilahok sa halalan sa 2022," she added.
The poll body is expected to begin the printing of ballots by the fourth quarter, Jimenez said. The filing of certificate of candidacy is still from October 1-8, he added.
Deputy House Speaker Rufus Rodriguez, for his part, is opposed to the extension of voter registration hours instead of extending the deadline for registration.
In a press conference, the Cagayan de Oro City Representative said, “Gabi na yun, mahirap. It’s more difficult that it will be already night time if you extend it. It is more difficult. It is better to postpone it regular time. I’m not agreaable to extending the time. I am for extension of registration.”
Rodriguez renewed his push for online registration of new and deactivated voters.
He explained that deactivated voters already have biometrics records at the Comelec. In the case of new voters, these can be taken when the country achieves herd immunity from COVID-19.
“I’ve always requested already the Comelec to make the registration online. I had two suggestions to Comelec. Registration online of the new voters, meaning those who will be 18 on May 9 which allows them to vote; and 2, those who were removed because of failure to vote in two consecutive elections. Hindi na kailangan pupunta sa office ng regsitrar of the election registrar’s office. Online na lang,” Rodriguez said.
“You register them online. Maski wala, delay muna yung submission of being present in the election registrar to get the biometric data from them. That can be done when there has already been herd immunity that government says first quarter of next year, we will have herd immunity,” he added.
Several lawmakers from both chambers of Congress have urged the poll body to give more time to the registration of voters since the lockdowns needed to curb the spread of the COVID 19 have kept potential voters from registering.
Physical presence is a requirement during registration because the poll body needs to take the biometric record of voters.
- with report from RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News
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