MANILA - The Senate and House of Representatives on Monday separately approved proposed measures in their respective chambers seeking to extend the voter registration period, which is set to close Sept. 30.
Senate Bill 2408 and House Bill 10261 were approved by all senators and a 193-0-0 vote in the lower House, respectively, amid a clamor for the extension of the registration deadline as the process was disrupted by the imposition of COVID-19 lockdowns for several months.
The Senate bill seeks to extend the deadline to Oct. 31, while the version of the House mandates that the last day of registration will be 30 days after its effectivity once passed into law.
If there are no significant differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill, it can be sent to the President for signature which would effectively extend voters registration by a month.
Senate Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri, one of the bill's principal authors, emphasized that the enactment of the measure is important for next year's elections, noting that around 12 million potential voters have not registered since they live in areas under lockdown due to the pandemic.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco hailed the passage of the bill as “a major step to prevent voter disenfranchisement."
“We hope the Comelec will use the one-month extension to ramp up voter registration and ensure that more people can vote next year because we cannot afford to disenfranchise voters,” Velasco said.
“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 added.
The Commission on Elections had rejected calls to extend the voter's registration period, saying it will affect their preparations for the May 9, 2022 polls.
Senator Sonny Angara said he had a talk earlier with Comelec chairperson Sheriff Abas, who said the poll body may struggle with its other activities if voter registration is extended for another month.
But Angara said the appeal of Comelec can be considered during the bill's deliberation by the bicameral conference committee.
While he did not object to House Bill 10261, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman expressed misgivings, saying it may not be necessary to enact it because an existing law he authored, Republic Act No. 8189 or “The Voter’s Registration Act of 1996”, mandates, under Section 8, the Comelec to conduct the continuing registration of voters up to Jan. 9, 2022, or one hundred twenty (120) days before next year's elections.
He also cited a 2009 Supreme Court that upheld the continuing registration of voters under RA 8189 for the May 10, 2010 elections.
Lagman said that if House Bill 10261 and Senate Bill 2408 are enacted into law, the continuing registration of voters for next year's elections will be shortened from January 9, 2022 to sometime in November 2021, depriving potential qualified registrants a total of about 60 days more within which to register.
In welcoming the bill's approval, Kabataan Rep. Sarah Elago said, "Katulad ng panawagan ng kabataan para sa 'ayuda' bill, ito ay dapat sertipikahang 'urgent'."
(As with calls by the youth for the passage of the 'ayuda' or assistance bill, HB 10261 should also be certified urgent.)
“We need to act fast to beat the September 30 deadline. This step is also in accordance with the HRep adopted HR No.2231 urging Comelec to extend the deadline for voter registration in the country and abroad to prevent voter disenfranchisement in view of the health and safety measures, travel restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. “ Elago also said.
“Malaking bagay ang kahit isang buwan na extension para bigyan pa ng pagkakataon ang nasa milyon-milyon pang unregistered na ligtas na makapagparehistro," she added.
(A one-month extension matters for the millions of unregistered qualified voters so they can catch up.)
The poll body said they have already reached their target number of voters for 2022, which stands at over 62 million as of latest figure.
The filing of certificates of candidacy for next year's elections is set on Oct. 1-8, while substitution of candidates will be until November.