Extend voter registration

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

I came across this opinion piece about the climate crisis and despair, released just two months ago. Part of the piece is the line “Hope is a right we must protect.” Perhaps for this generation, their favorite line would have to be: I am tired of being told that this world I was handed is irrevocably broken. So timely with the state of politics in the country.

The schools must not only teach students about the social ills and different crises. It is also their responsibility to show the students the tools they can use to correct these problems and mend a seemingly broken world, part by part. There is an urgent need to redirect students’ energies to solution-building. This generation is seeing a lot of what is wrong with society even before they go to the classroom. Inside the classroom, the work of building up students’ skills takes place. We must keep in mind that the heart of every academic institution is the belief that what they learn can help them improve the world. Parents have their roles to play as well.

Election time is just around the corner. The major political parties and individuals have already announced their candidacy. Do we see hope in these candidates? Will they bring the change that will bring back trust in government and ensure a better future for the coming generations?

To begin with, the youth of today, particularly those who are of voting age, should know the importance of elections in a democratic country. Parents and teachers should tell the students that they should take part in the exercise because apart from it being their right, this is an active practice of hope. In doing this, they are fulfilling their role as a member of the Philippine electorate, which is a reminder that their ideals can manifest into deeds.

In fact, the academe can take this step further and encourage students to do their share in ensuring fair elections. Their technological expertise, matched with social awareness, can be a big help in protecting this democratic process.

But first, in order to vote, one has to register. For the May 2016 elections, Comelec extended the voter’s registration deadline to Oct. 31. I do not understand why Comelec did not change this year’s deadline (Sept. 30), considering the pandemic and how it has hampered our movements. Why do we even need to persuade Comelec? Shouldn’t they initiate the move to extend with such a very reasonable stand?

Barely a few more days before the voter registration ends, qualified voters continue to encounter problems that would seemingly hinder their opportunity to enlist for the 2022 elections. Early on, the concerns were the limited registration slots in the local Comelec offices and the ineffective registration sites. Now, the challenges have grown even more difficult. Here are a couple of stories that I want to share with you.

One registrant had to try four times before she and her family were able to register. In the first attempt, they arrived at the city hall at 4:30 a.m. But the line was already up to 400 and only 200 can be accepted. So they went home. For the second attempt they even went earlier, but to their dismay, the line was already very long because they were told that people started lining up at 1 a.m. In their third attempt, they decided to try their luck in the satellite Comelec office in a mall.

They arrived at the site at 4:15 a.m. because they could not leave earlier due to the curfew hours. Did they succeed this time? No! It was the same story. They saw the long line along Ortigas extension. They were told that people also started lining up at 1 a.m. Again, they had to go home. In the fourth and last attempt, they persisted. They did not make it to the 300 mark. Nevertheless, they waited. When someone from the group came out, the registrant was allowed to go in. But only her. Once inside, she asked the guards to count again because her companions’ number tags were from 279-282. So she was hoping they could be allowed in. But the guard said that their count is correct because they were using stickers. What stickers?

Anyway, after the harrowing experience, finally the rest of the family were allowed in. How long did they have to wait? It took them six long hours before they were finally registered. Four hours just to get the number tag and time for actual registration and two hours to register.

Another registrant, a young man who just turned 18 and wanted to exercise his right to vote, had a similar story. His first attempt failed for the simple reason that the city hall was closed that Friday afternoon. Two days later, he went for his second attempt. He stood in line for 30 minutes, only to be told when he reached his turn that numbers are given out at 5 a.m. So, he went home.

On his third attempt, he tried to register at Ayala Feliz, the designated site for his district. He arrived at 7 a.m., an hour before registration starts. He was not allowed to enter because there were already people who arrived as early as 4 a.m. Again, he went home feeling disappointed.

Then came his fourth attempt. He arrived at SM East Ortigas at 2 a.m. There were around 50 people waiting. Lining up started before 3 a.m. Everyone had to stand for an hour to an hour and a half. He saw some elderly people in the line. Finally, at 4:30 a.m. he got in. The room was not well ventilated. They sat on the floor and waited. At 6 a.m. the staff began moving people to where there were seats and some fans. The waiting continued. Finally, at 7 a.m. the Comelec staff started distributing numbers. He was finally registered at 2 p.m.

Another young lady had a similar experience. The Comelec office that caters to their district is only open Monday-Thursday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. People start lining up at midnight with a cut off when 1,000 people arrive. Her companion volunteered to line up on Sunday at 10 p.m. to ensure that they get a slot. Sanamagan!

There are already 62 million registered voters for the elections on May 9, 2022. According to the Philippine Statistics Authority, the projected voting population is over 73 million. Comelec better get their act together.

The people want their voices heard. The influx of new registrants has shown us that people will wait even for 10 hours in the lines just to make their vote count. These are exciting and hopeful days ahead for the Filipinos. Comelec must be fair. Congress and the Senate must work to ensure that the registration period is extended.

God bless our country!

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