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7 senators urge Comelec to move voter registration deadline to October 31

Seven senators on Thursday filed a resolution urging the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend the voter registration period by one month.

The proposed Senate resolution seeks to move the deadline for voter registration from September 30,2021 to October 31, 2021 to prevent “voter disenfranchisement” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, Senators Francis Pangilinan, Nancy Binay, Leila De Lima, Risa Hontiveros, and Joel Villanueva.

“COMELEC set the September 30, 2021 deadline before the COVID-19 pandemic. In this connection, COMELEC could not have anticipated the adverse impact of the pandemic on voter registration and must make the necessary adjustments to allow more unregistered potential voters to register,” the senators wrote.

In their resolution, the lawmakers pointed out that the poll body has suspended the voter registration several times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first suspension was implemented last March 10, 2020 and it lasted until August 31,2020 or more than five and a half months due to the first wave of COVID-19 cases in the country.

Last August 12, 2020, the Comelec has promulgated a resolution which issued the guidelines for the conduct of voter registration, including its suspension once an area is placed under enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ.

The senators said the voter registration was suspended in the following months and areas:

-March 2021 in National Capital Region, Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna, an Cavite. Voter registration resumed on May 17, 2021.

-August 2021 in NCR, Cavite, Rizal, Laguna, Iloilo, Cagayan de Oro, Lucena, among others for at least two weeks.

Citing Philippine Statistics Authority’s data, the senators said there are around 73.3 million voting population in the 2022 elections.

As of June 22, the poll body said there are at least 60 million voters registered for the upcoming elections, which means, there are still 13.3 million unregistered potential voters, the lawmakers said.

“While it is also important for COMELEC to have enough time to prepare the final list of voters, which is a prerequisite for the preparation and completion of the Project of Precincts (POP), a one-month extension will not unduly hamper or delay COMELEC’s preparation of the POP,” they said.

They argued that the Comelec had a history of setting deadlines that are on or beyond October 31 of the year before the polls.

It happened in 2001, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2013, and even in 2016, the senators said.

The lawmakers also cited the 2015 Supreme Court ruling on Kabataan Party-list v. Commission on Elections (G.R. No. 221318, December 16, 2015) where the high court stated that the COMELEC has the power to set the deadline of voter registration, provided no registration may be done during the period starting 120 days before a regular election

They also said that the SC recognized COMELEC’s prerogative in setting the deadline for registration, “taking into consideration administrative necessities and other exigencies in setting such date.”

“Considering the five-and-a-half-month suspension (approximately 28.3% of the entire registration period) of voter registration across the country and, after that, month-long suspensions in areas under ECQ and MECQ brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic (some areas, such as Metro Manila, lost up to 38.6% of the entire registration period), COMELEC has the prerogative to set the deadline of voter registration on a later date but before January 9, 2022, taking into consideration this public health emergency, in order to prevent voter disenfranchisement,” they said.

Earlier today, more than 50 youth organizations also urged the poll body to extend the voter registration period by at least one month especially in areas heavily-affected by lockdowns.—LDF, GMA News