MANILA - The windows around the election office of Caloocan City's first district were not intended to be used for over-the-counter transactions.
But in the time of the pandemic, the casements used to let fresh air in were turned into Windows 1, 2, 3, and 4, all to accommodate residents applying to become registered voters.
The downside of following health protocols is that some applicants have to be turned away.
"Because the biometric scanners have to be disinfected after each use, it now takes 10 minutes to process each person, from 5 before," said election officer Ma. Anne Gonzales.
"And since there are only 50 walk-in applicants allowed each day, those who come from farther areas arrive past the cutoff."
Since the election building at the city hall compound is surrounded by an open driveway, registrants have the space to observe physical distancing-- until it rains.
Over 3 months since voter registration resumed throughout the country, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said registrants were coming in trickles, in large part due to the pandemic.
The ongoing holiday season, though muted, has also kept people from handling their vote-readying duties.
An estimated 700,000 registration applications have reached Comelec since September, spokesperson James Jimenez told ABS-CBN News.
It's still far from the over 4 million new eligible voters for the 2022 polls the Comelec expects to register over the next 9 months.
"We still have to see 'yong talagang uptick ng registration numbers. I think people are still a little afraid, they're still a little concerned, and siyempre hindi mawawala 'yong impact ng holidays (of course the impact of the holidays can't be discounted)," Jimenez said.
"People are tired of COVID and with Christmas coming, 'yon ang (that's the) main item on the agenda for most people, not so much registration."
In previous elections, the Caloocan 1st district election office could process up to 300 registrants per day.
But since opening amid the pandemic, they could only handle 100, election officer Gonzales said.
This is made up of the 50 walk-in applicants and 50 scheduled applicants.
Half are booked with the local Comelec's Facebook account and the other half through the iRehistro website, where online forms can be filled up.
Often, many with appointments fail to show up--a waste for the walk-ins who miss the cutoff time.
Vote-rich districts in Caloocan include Barangay 176 or Bagong Silang, the Philippines' largest village and voting precinct, which had nearly 100,000 registered voters in the last election.
The registrations can also be hampered when staff go on quarantine, Gonzales said.
Jimenez, meanwhile, said the Comelec has not listed a COVID-19 transmission case in its registration centers.
The commission is looking forward to the easing of quarantine restrictions in 2021, should COVID-19 cases recede, to help boost registration numbers, Jimenez said.
This would enable them to resume satellite registrations, where they bring their facilities to bigger, more accessible areas such as schools and community centers.
Currently, they could not conduct them because of stringent requirements, such as areas having zero COVID-19 cases for 2 weeks, as well as the partner location complying with health safety requirements.
Add to that, most major urban centers, including Metro Manila, are still under General Community Quarantine.
"Hopefully by next year, when conditions have settled down a little further, baka kaya na nilang ma-meet iyan (maybe they can finally meet the requirements) and we can have our satellite registration centers then," Jimenez said.
"At that point, we expect na talagang papalo iyong (a big spike in) registrants, because then it will send a message that it's safer, it's more convenient, and so on and so forth."
For now, the Comelec continues its call to prospective voters not to wait for the September 2021 registration deadline.
"Whether or not there's a holiday, whether or not it's convenient for people, we ask them to register if they haven't yet."