Mindful of the importance of overseas citizens’ right to vote and its implication to the 2022 national elections, North American rights-based groups urge the Commission on Elections (Comelec) through the Philippine Consulates to reconsider its earlier decision not to extend the voter registration beyond the September 31, 2021 deadline.
In Wednesday’s Zoom meeting, leaders of the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance – FAHRA (Ago Pedalizo, Violy Reyes, Fe Koons, and Art Garcia), U.S. Filipinos for Good Governance -USFGG (Eric Lachica), Malaya Movement (Yves Nibungco), Global Pinoy Diaspora Canada-GPDC (Treenee Lopez), and Bunyog/Pagkakaisa (Atty. Ricky Tomotorgo) reiterate their collective concern about the possible disenfranchisement of the right to vote of more than half a million deactivated voters.
The leaders cite some of the restrictions being experienced by overseas voters which are beyond their control such as the difficulty in completing the online form (iRehistro for Overseas Voters) provided in the Philippine Consulates’ websites, the undue financial burden for taking a day off from work to complete the registration, and discouraging Consulate’s poor phone customer service (e.g. no or untimely phone returns).
Fe Koons highlights FAHRA’s message to the Comelec which states in part its demands and concerns, “We feel these (Public Service Announcements (PSAs), and provision of more physical access to the consulates) are not enough. We request the following: (1). Extension of registration to October 31st (2). Mass emailing of the deactivated list of voters amounting to 578,000 worldwide, and (3). Publication of the deactivated voters’ list in major newspapers that cater to Filipinos. Failure to exhaust all possible means to reach out to voters would amount to sin of omission on the part of the COMELEC and would also constitute voters’ suppression.”
Art Garcia calls on the Comelec’s insensitivity to the Senate and people’s demand to extend the registration. “The COMELEC during the dictatorship was an embattled institution as it allowed itself to become an instrument in perpetuating Marcos’ hold on the presidency by conducting sham elections. Now, it denies the resolution of the Senate and the people’s clamor to extend the registration. It ignores the fact that Covid-19 totally altered office practices that reduced the registration days. Moreover, the Philippine Consulate offices just did not have the mechanism to actively inform the status of the deactivated voters. Also, the lack of public awareness of the re-registration process could lead to the disenfranchisement of approximately half a million Filipino overseas voters,” deplores Garcia.
“The Comelec’s lackluster interest in facilitating the registration of voters prevents the robust electoral participation from the overseas Filipino voters,” adds Garcia.
On the other hand, Eric Lachica challenges the civic minded overseas Filipinos to be creative in reaching out to 86,000 deactivated voters in the USA and more than half-a-million globally. He reminded the public of applying the old fashion “get out the vote” (GOTV) tactics in informing the voters of their rights and responsibilities. “Please go to the websites of the Philippine Consulates and download the list of deactivated voters. Then search on Facebook the names of deactivated voters. Contact matched names via Messenger by informing them of the re-registration process. It will be trial and error work but it is a worthwhile civic act of promoting participatory democracy,” appeals Lachica.
Ago Pedalizo insists that the right to vote must not be easily surrendered, he concludes, “In light of Comelec’s junking of the Senate’s resolution to extend the registration at least to the end of October, the approximately half a million deactivated OFW voters run the risk of not being able to vote for the Philippine 2022 national elections. This is plainly not acceptable. We need to impress upon the Comelec that it is a tool for democracy rather than being just another ineffectual bureaucratic entity. Filipinos must defend their right to vote!”
The group appeals to freedom loving Filipinos to go to COMELEC’s website (www.comelec.gov.ph) and Facebook account and post the petition in the following manner or similar language, “Due to the repeated suspension of enlistment activities brought by the coronavirus-induced lockdowns, please extend the registration by at least a month to October 31, 2021. Moreover, deadlines for the registration of voters had been extended in past elections and there is no reason why it cannot be done at this extraordinary time of pandemic.”
Meanwhile, the Philippine Senate adopted on September 14th the Senate Resolution 851 filed on August 23rd urging the Commission on Elections to extend the voter registration from September 30th to October 31st to prevent voter disenfranchisement brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Comelec, however, junked the Senate Resolution. Comelec’s spokesman James Jimenez said, “The en banc, citing concerns about the timeline of preparations for the 2022 national and local elections and the continuing apprehensions about the health and safety of the public and Comelec personnel, decided against extending the voter’s registration period beyond Sept. 30, 2021.”