The Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday said it will convene a management committee meeting before next Wednesday’s en banc session to discuss the possibility of extending voter registration beyond 30 September due to public clamor and pressure from both chambers of Congress.
“By considering voter registration at this late date, the Comelec is effectively playing with fire. But this is a challenge we’re willing to take in the service of the Filipino electorate,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in a press conference.
“We’re open to this now because of the public clamor. We already have a lot of complaints from the public,” Jimenez explained.
The high level Comelec meeting will compile recommendations to the en banc. Commissioners will likely decide on the matter on 29 September, a day before the voter’s registration deadline.
Earlier, the Senate Committee on Finance deferred the deliberations on the proposed P41.992-billion Comelec budget over its refusal to extend 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 en banc and discuss the recommendation of Congress to extend the 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,” she added.
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 Congress are pressuring the agency to heed their suggestions through proposed bills filed separately in the Senate and House of Representatives.
Meanwhile, the Inter-Agency Task Force has approved the inclusion of all Comelec employees in the list of authorized persons outside of their residences (APOR) a week before the scheduled filing of certificates of candidacy (CoC).
Under Resolution 140, included as APOR are Comelec personnel who have roles with the submission of hard copies of CoC and related documents to the poll body’s main office.
All representatives of political parties and partylist organizations, as well as aspirants for public office and their authorized companions, are also considered APOR during the CoC filing period.
The Comelec has set the filing of CoC for 1 to 8 October. It earlier announced it would only allow one person to accompany each aspirant during the filing to avoid crowding.
The filing of CoC will be held in a tent of the Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila instead of the Comelec’s main office in Manila.
In an earlier virtual press forum, Jimenez explained the poll body wasn’t able to grant the request to extend the voter registration deadline due to preparatory activities they will be conducting, such as the project of precincts, which will be based on the final number of registered voters, and the printing of election ballots that will be verified by the poll body to check its accuracy.
He argued a one-month extension will delay the printing of ballots, moving it to January, opening it to errors that might affect the integrity of the elections.
He stressed the importance of having ample time to prepare for the upcoming elections.
During the budget hearings, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon stressed the Comelec 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.
“Congress has already determined that except for 120 days before the elections, there should be a continuing registration. You have no discretion to disregard this. The Supreme Court has already sustained this,” Drilon said. “We’re bending backwards by saying it should be extended until 31 October.”
The minority leader further 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.
with Gab Humilde Villegas and Mj Blancaflor