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Brillantes criticized over 'alarmist' statement on biometrics bill

(Updated 6:21 p.m., Nov. 15) Two senators on Wednesday criticized poll chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. for his supposed “alarmist” statement that eight million Filipinos will be robbed of their right to vote if Congress passes the bill requiring biometric registration of voters before next year’s elections.   "What the chairman said is false and is causing alarm to many voters as much as eight million voters," said Senate Minority Floor Leader Alan Peter Cayetano, who brought up the issue during Wednesday's session at the Senate.   Brillantes issued the statement following Monday's Senate approval of Senate Bill 1030, which requires all registered voters whose biometrics have not been captured to appear before election officers for biometric registration. Under the measure, the photographs, fingerprints, signature and other identifiable features will be stored by the data capturing machine of the automated election system that has been adopted by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).   Brillantes reportedly said that if the bill is passed before the 2013 polls, it would deprive eight million Filipinos—or 15 percent of total voters—of their right to vote. The Comelec had earlier said that voters who registered before the biometrics system was put in place in 2000 could still vote. Making biometric registration mandatory could put their votes in jeopardy, said Brillantes.   "I believe that it is a baseless alarmist statement," Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said on Brillantes’ statement.   Cayetano and Pimentel explained that SB 1030 will only take effect for the 2016 elections, noting that it hasn't even been passed into law yet.   "This law, although it may be passed in 2012 or 2013, the practical effects of this law will be really felt and this law is really meant to enhance and improve the 2016 elections because we cannot regulate an act which happened before the passage of the law," said Pimentel, chair of the Senate committee on electoral reforms.   "So how can we say that we will deactivate those who will register on or before Oct. 31 2012 when we passed the law after October 31, 2012 so that's an unreasonable interpretation that people will be pen for not doing something they were not aware they had to do," he added.   "How will you have a senatorial election of 40 million voters then you will disenfranchise eight million voters? There are a lot of congressional districts mayors, governors, councilors who usually win with a slight lead, can you imagine if voters are disenfranchised because they do not have biometrics by a law passed after the deadline?" Cayetano said. Taken out of context Brillantes, however, clarified Thursday that his statement was taken out of context, saying he was just answering the hypothetical question on what would happen if the proposed law would take effect before the 2013 polls. "I have always answered that I prefer it to take effect in 2016 as it would give the voters time to validate and that the 2013 polls is too close," he said. "If its effectivity will be in 2013, many voters with no biometrics may be disenfranchised since we can no longer reopen revalidation." He added: "My view, therefore, is consistent with that of Senators Cayetano and Pimentel—only that my statements were unfortunately taken out of context." A check with a copy of the measure shows a provision in the bill saying: "Voters who failed to submit for validation on or before the last day of filing of application for registration for purposes of the 2013 national and local elections, despite due notice, shall be deactivated from the registration record of the voters by the Election Registration Board." A press statement from Pimentel's office also states the same.   Regardless, both senators asked the Comelec not to issue any similar statements in the future.   "May I appeal to the Comelec, to the commissioners, to refrain from making alarmist statements because precisely the attitude of the committee is we will not unsettle what is already settled," he said.   Pimentel said they hope to pass SB 1030 into law soon so that they can enter as many voters into the biometrics system before 2016. — Kimberly Jane Tan/KBK, GMA News