MANILA — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced Friday it would convene its top officials next week to weigh the pros and cons of extending voter registration beyond the Sept. 30 deadline, following public clamor and pressure from both houses of Congress.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez told reporters the management committee meeting, to be attended by top poll officials, will be held next week before the Wednesday en banc meeting.
"By considering voter registration at this late date, the Comelec is effectively playing with fire. But this is a challenge we're willing to take in the service of the Filipino electorate," Jimenez said in the press conference.
Earlier in the day, Comelec turned down appeals to extend until October 31 the voter registration period set to end in 6 days, with chairman Sheriff Abas telling senators doing so would derail crucial Halalan 2022 preparations.
"We would like to apologize for our polite rejection of the request... Yung timelines po namin talagang masikip na. We really have to do it because meron kasi kaming immovable dates... Mabubulilyaso na [kung mag-extend]," Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas told senators during the poll body's budget deliberation.
But during Jimenez's press conference, he said Comelec changed its position following "public clamor."
"We're open to this now because of the public clamor. Marami na tayong naririnig na reklamo ng publiko," he said.
The spokesman added the meeting is expected to come out with recommendations to the en banc, which has the power to approve or deny it.
"The mancom [management committee] will be a consultation... We will be talking about the logistic, how will it be done, how long of an extension is possible. They will submit the recommendation to the en banc and en banc will make decision," Jimenez explained.
Previously, Comelec has been insistent to finish voter registration in Sept. 30, fearing a domino effect of delays in other election-related activities such as the loading of data to the vote counting machines in December and the printing of ballots in January.
The poll body likewise said they have already reached their target number of voters for 2022, which stands at over 62 million as of latest figure.
COMELEC ACCUSED OF VOTER SUPPRESSION
During the earlier Senate hearing, Abas attempted to bargain with senators by opening voter registration for one more week after the filing of certificates of candidacy (COC) from Oct. 1 to 8.
"Ito yung proposal namin... i-extend na po namin ng 1 week, automatic yung extension, after filing of COCs, then hintayin po namin kung may batas... 1 week lang ang kaya naming ibigay. Papalpak po kami in the end," Abas appealed.
Abas was referring to bills pending before the Senate and the House of Representatives that would compel them to extend for one more month the voter registration.
But senators Franklin Drilon, Risa Hontiveros, and Kiko Pangilinan all said this is not enough, citing the estimated 12 million qualified voters yet to be tapped by poll body.
Drilon also accused Comelec of disregarding its mandate and calling its refusal for extension "voter suppression."
"It is a clear voter suppression regulation. You suppress the right of the voter to vote. That is a cardinal sin in our democratic system of government... The refusal to extend the registration period is clearly a regulation to suppress the right to vote," Drilon said.
The senators terminated the budget hearing and asked Comelec to meet first and discuss the voter registration extension.