North American groups urge Comelec to extend PH voter registration period
North American rights-based groups are calling on the Philippines’ Commission on Elections (Comelec) through the Philippine Consulates to reconsider its earlier decision not to extend the voter registration beyond the September 30, 2021 deadline.
In a Zoom meeting, leaders of the Filipino American Human Rights Alliance – FAHRA (Ago Pedalizo, Violy Reyes, Fe Koons, and Art Garcia), U.S. Pinoy for Good Governance -USPGG (Eric Lachica), Malaya Movement (Yves Nibungco), Global Pinoy Diaspora Canada-GPDC (Treenee Lopez), and Bunyog/Pagkakaisa (Atty. Ricky Tomotorgo) reiterated their collective concern about the possible disenfranchisement of the right to vote of more than half a million deactivated voters.
The leaders cited some of the restrictions being experienced by overseas voters that 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 highlighted FAHRA’s message to the COMELEC which states in part the following requests: (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,” Koons stated.
Art Garcia deplored the COMELEC’s insensitivity to the Senate and people’s demand 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.
“The COMELEC’s lackluster interest in facilitating the registration of voters prevents the robust electoral participation from the overseas Filipino voters,” added Garcia.
On the other hand, Lachica challenged the civic-minded overseas Filipinos to be creative in reaching out to deactivated voters. 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,” appealed Lachica.
Pedalizo insisted that the right to vote must not be easily surrendered, he concluded, “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 appealed to “freedom-loving Filipinos to go to COMELEC’s website (www.comelec.gov.ph) and Facebook account (https://www.facebook.com/comelec.ph) 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 the pandemic.”