For once in this divisive political climate, all members of the Senate and the House of Representatives voted as one when they unanimously approved a measure extending the voter registration deadline for the national elections in 2022. Senate Bill 2408 was supported by House Bill 10261, which amplified the voices of both houses of Congress and added to the clamor of various youth groups and socio-civic organizations to give more time for Filipinos to register as first-time voters or to update their voting information.
Whether it was listening to the people’s voice or bending due to the pressures from lawmakers who would have a hand in approving its 2022 budget, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) relented, a reversal from its initial headstrong decision to end the registration on Sept. 30, 2021. The COMELEC, in an en banc session this week, also unanimously approved a resolution for the extension. Afterward, spokesperson James Jimenez said that the extension is from Oct. 11 to 30, 2021.
The clamor for this extension is palpable. Photos of long lines in mall registration sites and COMELEC satellite offices dominated the news alongside pandemic updates. Netizens shared how they woke up at four in the morning just to be part of the line. As there was a limit of around 300 to 500 registrants per day in the mall sites, a lot of would-be voters were turned away.
The pandemic also posed challenges in the voter registration process. Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, the author of the House bill, explained that the extension aims to “avoid massive voter disenfranchisement given the extraordinary circumstances brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The public health crisis, Velasco said, has been “prolonged and many prospective voters have been forced to delay their registration. At a time of uncertainty, each and every office of the government needs to be flexible and alert.”
Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, the main sponsor of the bill in the Senate, also reiterated the call of the Speaker. “The Filipino people have been clamoring for this deadline extension… due to a series of cancellation of voter registration. It is necessary to give unregistered Filipinos of voting age ample time to register, and eventuality exercise their constitutional right to vote.” The extension would be a win-win solution as COMELEC touts its accomplishments, with Jimenez saying that they have already exceeded by one million their target of new voter registrants. Initially, it was at four million, but now they have already five million as of latest data. Still, there is no harm in encouraging more Filipinos, especially first-time voters, to register. In a vote, the adage “the more, the merrier” applies. In our kind of democracy, the result of our collective vote will determine whether we experience torture or nirvana in the next six years.
To vote, without impediments, is the right of each and every Filipino of legal age. A democracy can only be alive — and be sustained — if its citizens can exercise this democratic process freely and conscientiously. To the lawmakers and the COMELEC who listened to the voice of the people with regard to this deadline extension, continue to do so to attain a common purpose and to generate the greater good. Our nation, post-pandemic, needs a leader who will unify us and there is only one way to find out who he, or she, would be.