The Senate Committee on Finance on Friday deferred the deliberation on the proposed P41.992 billion budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) over its refusal to extend the voter’s registration.
Led by Senator Risa Hontiveros, the subcommittee of the Senate finance panel moved to suspend the budget hearing to “give time” for the poll body to reconvene its en banc and discuss the recommendation of Congress to extend its deadline for registration.
“The Chair enjoins the Comelec through its Chair Abas to have a third en banc discussion bearing in mind what the senators said that by law, registration should be continuous 120 days before general election,” Hontiveros said.
The poll body has set 30 September as the last day for voter’s registration but lawmakers are calling for its extension for another month. Both chambers of the Congress are pressuring the agency to heed their suggestions through proposed bills filed separately in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas, during the budget deliberations, “politely” rejected the appeal of legislators citing the “tight” deadline.
Abas then proposed a compromise proposing a one-week extension of the voter’s registration.
“This is our proposal. We will extend the registration one week after the filing then we will wait if a law will be passed. If there’s a law then we will not have a choice, we’ll extend until 31 October. That’s when you will see that we don’t have the luxury of time,” he told senators.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, however, turned down his suggestion and stressed that the agency does not have the “discretion” to extend noting that under the 1987 Constitution, the poll body has to continue registering eligible Filipinos up to 120 days before the elections.
Drilon lambasted the Comelec’s deadline describing it as a form of “voters’ suppression” as it will hamper at least 12 million individuals from casting their ballots.
“If I am to pursue to its logical end, your resolution setting 30 September as deadline for registration is a form of voter suppression because in effect the actual circumstances of pandemic when our voters could not go out and register — these are not their own making. These are circumstances that are beyond their control,” he said.
“To me, it is clear that your resolution in this context cannot be enforced because it a is a clear voter’s suppression and that is a cardinal sin in our democracy,” he added.
To help Congress and the Comelec find a “win-win” solution, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan raised the idea of the deferment of the discussion and let the poll body discuss and reconsider their position on the issue.
“I would like to support the Comelec but in this matter of voter’s registration, the rights of the voters come first. Voting is the bedrock of any democracy and this is anti-democratic to say the least to disenfranchise over 12 million who are still eligible but not registered,” he said.
“I hope and I pray that the change of heart might happen when they have the opportunity to discuss it en banc because of the most recent developments in the last two weeks,” he added.