Ateneo universities in Mindanao offer to be satellite voter registration sites

The Mindanao Consortium of Ateneos (MCA) on Wednesday, October 13, has offered their school spaces as satellite registration centers to help the Commission on Elections (Comelec) register as many more voters as it can with just barely two weeks left in the registration period.

The MCA – Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, Ateneo de Davao University (ADDU), and Ateneo de Zamboanga University (ADZU) – made the offer in a statement as it sounded the alarm over the prospect of millions of Filipinos failing to register for the 2022 elections.

The statement was signed by the presidents of the three universities: Jesuit priests Mars Tan for Xavier, Joel Tabora for ADDU, and Karel San Juan for ADZU.

"Schools have offered their spaces as satellite registration sites; they would employ the same safety protocols as to when they opened their doors to help out in the vaccination rollout. Exploring mobile registration activities to remote areas can also be an option to make registration accessible to voters in the margins," Tabora said.

The consortium said at least 8,378,580 young citizens have yet to register as voters based on 2019 data it culled.

Mindanao Consortium of Ateneos

It cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority that showed that 61,843,750 citizens were registered voters in 2019, but after the Comelec purged its database and delisted inactive voters, only 54,843,750 voters remained.

The group said that of the current 19,496,400 young people, with ages ranging from 18 to 24 years, qualified to vote, only 11,117,820 have registered the last time it checked.

Overall, of the 73 million citizens qualified to vote, 63 million have registered, the consortium noted, citing Comelec data.

“Some 10 million, many of these are young people, are still unable to register for various reasons, including the risk brought by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the group said.

Release election guidelines now

The MCA also called on the Comelec to immediately release election guidelines before the deadline of voters’ registration, complete with clear safety and security protocols.

“The right to vote and the right to health are equally important. Ensuring that people are able to cast their votes and securing their safety from COVID-19 are both goods to be preserved. Disenfranchisement needs to be avoided just as we must avoid the deadly virus. Balancing both requires creativity,” said San Juan.

The group said there was a need to enforce vigorous registration of voters even as it called for more satellite voters’ registration sites if the Comelec partners not just with the Jesuit-run universities but also with other schools.

Mindanao Consortium of Ateneos

“I find it scandalous when the Comelec says it will be open the whole day to register voters, and then closes its offices at 2 pm,” Tabora said.

The consortium’s statement read in part: “Content with already having attained its quota, the Comelec ignored the long lines of youthful voters queuing to register, even rejecting them for registration once their local daily quotas had been reached. In some cases, youth were lining up as early as 8 pm in the hope of registering the following day. It was disturbing that the Comelec would have been willing to disenfranchise and frustrate so many youthful voters simply because it had already achieved its quota.”

'Prioritize the youth'

Tan said the MCA would help in strengthening the campaign for electoral and political education, and empower the youth in Mindanao to shape the future through the ballot.

“We ask the Comelec to prioritize and accommodate the youth, especially the out-of-school youth, who are first-time voters,” he said.

The three Ateneo universities also said they were alarmed over the possible low turnout of voters in next year’s elections as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mindanao Consortium of Ateneos

They cited a Pulse Asia Research, Incorporated survey conducted in June that showed that 46% of Filipinos would skip the polls due to the COVID-19 threat and unless the Comelec releases clear guidelines. 

The consortium said: “In Mindanao, the hesitation comes from 40% of its voting population with 10% still undecided. Releasing the safety and security guidelines for the 2022 elections may allay the fears of these voters or give all the opportunity to help shape the guidelines in dialogue with Comelec so that all may vote in safety.”

The Comelec has extended voter registration until October 30. – Rappler.com