Metro Manila student councils call for longer voters' registration

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Metro Manila student councils call for longer voters' registration
In this handout photo, a youth activist hands out a spray bottle of alcohol spray to campaign for an extension of voters' registration
Akbayan party-list handout

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 1:48 p.m.) — Student councils of universities in Metro Manila have urged the Commission on Elections to extend voter's registration, with only two weeks left before the deadline on September 30. 

In a petition, student leaders called to stretch the signups until the end of the year, warning a "massive scale" of eligible voters could be denied the right to participate in the 2022 polls. 

Among factors, they cited how registration was suspended in areas under tighter lockdowns such as Metro Manila. And with record-high infections, they added many could be at risk of catching COVID-19 just to meet the September 30 deadline. 

"We believe that extending the voter registration period is the most judicial and wisest decision to do in addressing both COVID-19 pandemic and the concern of massive voter disenfranchisement," they said. 

Student councils that petitioned are from: Adamson University, Ateneo de Manila, De La Salle University, Far Eastern University, National University, University of Santo Tomas, University of the East, and University of the Philippines - Diliman. 

By noon of September 16, signatories to a change.org petition have reached more than 4,800.

The councils called on Comelec to put up more satellite booths, as well as a voter registration system at the barangay level where community facilities such as basketball courts or gymnasiums could be used. 

"[This] will significantly decrease the concentration of expected registrants in a particular barangay/satellite booth, lowering the risks of a superspreader event," they said. 

"We are hearing reports of unbearable long lines and of people lining up as early as 3 a.m. outside COMELEC. These are potential health risks that can be mitigated if COMELEC finally decides to extend voters' registration," Alyannah Lagasca of Center for Youth Advocacy and Networking (CYAN) said in a separate press statement.

CYAN, Akbayan Youth and First Time Voters Network are also calling for extended voters' registration.

Student leaders also urged the election body to vaccinate its personnel in registration efforts, and provide more support for infrastructure such as fingerprint scanners and cameras. 

"It is now under the prerogative of Comelec to adjust the deadline of registration," student councils said, "and create policies and resolutions in consideration with the current public health crisis and the underlying consequences of community quarantine restrictions, as suggested in this petition letter."

The call came days after the Senate, through a resolution, formally urged Comelec to extend registration but only until October.

"Lahat nananawagan na nang extension (Everyone is calling for an extension): House of Representatives, Senate, media, youth and student groups and other sectors. All concerns were fully deliberated and considered. Lahat nag-aagree na kaya ang ligtas na extension at ito ay nararapat (All agree that a safe extension is possible and should be done)," Justine Balane, secretary general of Akbayan Youth said in a statement.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said in a Laging Handa briefing that she had learned about the resolution, but they have yet to decide on it. 

She added the en banc had discussed calls last week, but a majority was no longer keen on an extension. 

Guanzon added that per latest data, there are now 61 million registered voters for next year's polls, and around 6.5 million could still reactivate their voter status. 

Comelec has set the filing of candidacy next month. Election Day will be on May 9, 2022. 

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