MANILA – The House of Representatives and the Senate on Monday night unanimously approved a measure seeking to extend the voter registration deadline for the May 2022 national and local elections for another 30 days.
With 193 affirmative votes, the chamber approved House Bill 10261, which proposes to fix the last day of registration of voters for the 2022 polls.
Currently, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) set the deadline on September 30.
Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, the author of the bill, said the period for registration must be extended to avoid “massive voter disenfranchisement” given the “extraordinary circumstances’ brought about by the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic.
"We hope the Comelec will use the one-month extension to ramp up voter registration and ensure that more people can vote next year because we cannot afford to disenfranchise voters," Velasco said.
He said the extension would also give “leeway” to Filipinos whose registration was delayed because of prevailing circumstances.
“The public health crisis has been prolonged and many prospective voters have been forced to delay their registration this year and in 2020,” he said. “At a time of uncertainty, each and every office of the government is tasked to be flexible and alert.”
He said the poll body should not allow the democratic process of election to be stalled by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has the potential to cause massive disenfranchisement.
"The right to vote in an election is one essential part of the democratic process, and Comelec is duty-bound to make sure that all eligible voters are able to register and exercise their right to suffrage," he said.
The Senate also unanimously approved Senate Bill 2408, an Act Extending the Registration of Voters for the 2022 National and Local Elections.
All the senators agreed that the Comelec needed to be compelled to move the deadline despite its continued rejection of the proposal.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, the main sponsor of the bill, said the Senate will adopt the House of Representatives' version of the bill.
Zubiri reiterated the urgency of passing a legislation that would mandate the Comelec to move the deadline of the registrations to allow more voters to participate in next year's elections.
"Hopefully the President will sign this request," Zubiri said.
In the bill's explanatory note, the senators stressed that almost six months of the registration period was lost when the pandemic began and the country was under stringent lockdown. More days were lost too when areas were reverted to enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) or modified ECQ.
The senators, citing the Comelec report, said that as of June 2021, there are around 60 million registered voters for the 2022 elections. This is short of the 73.3 million projected voting population reported by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) in February 2021.
The senators said "the Filipino people have been clamoring for the extension of the deadline of voter registration" as a result of a series of cancellations of voter registration.
"Given the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic, it is necessary to extend the voter registration, in order to give unregistered Filipinos of voting age ample time to register, and eventuality exercise their constitutional right to vote," they said.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said less than 200,000 new voter registrants are expected to be listed if the voter registration is extended.
“Right now, our expectation is we are probably going to get less than 200,000 more who have not registered yet,” Jimenez said.
He said they have exceeded by 1 million their target new registrants of 4 million for the whole registration period.
“We exceeded our expectation of 4 million. We are now actually at 5 million,” he added.
The Comelec en banc is set to meet next week to discuss calls for an extension of the voter registration.
The Comelec’s seven-man management committee (ManCom) is expected to come up with a decision on September 29, a day before the September 30 deadline of the nationwide voter registration.
“The ManCom is done. We had the management committee meeting earlier today where the chairman and the commissioners consulted with different regional directors and officials of Comelec,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in a virtual briefing on Monday.
“We are preparing the recommendation now and it will be submitted to the banc on Wednesday. So the en banc will deliberate on the recommendation and we will see what happens on Wednesday,” he added. (with reports from Ferdinand Patinio/PNA)