2022 Philippine Elections

Senators eye budget cut, passing bill compelling Comelec to extend registration

Dwight de Leon
Senators eye budget cut, passing bill compelling Comelec to extend registration

NO EXTENSION. Residents wait in line near the entrance of the Comelec satellite office in Arroceros, Manila on September 20, 2021. They seek to submit their voter applications before the September 30 registration deadline.

Rappler

(1st UPDATE) 'Perhaps it's the bureaucracy that is refusing to budge, and that they [Comelec] already have made their preparations and would just rather proceed,' Senator Francis Pangilinan says

Senators mulled over the possibility of either slashing the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) budget for 2022, or passing a one-sentence measure, in order to pressure the poll body into moving the September 30 voter registration deadline by one month.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon raised the two options in a plenary session on Monday, September 20, as the upper chamber adopted a proposed concurrent resolution of both houses calling on the poll body to move the voter registration deadline to October 31.

“Would the good sponsor consider urging the subcommittee handling the Comelec budget to call the Comelec to a hearing this week and express this need to extend the registration under pain of their budget being slashed to the barest minimum?” Drilon asked Senator Francis Pangilinan, who sponsored the resolution.

“That’s part of the check and balance, if they refuse to exercise a discretion which is consistent with public interest. I think there is a valid point in denying them the appropriation of certain public funds,” Drilon added.

Pangilinan welcomed the proposal.

“Yes, we would support this effort if the chairman of the committee on finance and subcommittee chair of the committee on finance that handles the Comelec budget would be willing to call a hearing later this week and get the clarification from the Comelec,” Pangilinan said.

It is important to note that the Comelec has been appealing to lawmakers to help it restore over P15 billion that the executive branch trimmed in its proposed 2022 budget. The poll body requested P41.9 billion worth of funds, but the Department of Budget and Management only asked Congress for nearly P26.5 billion.

The second option, Drilon said, is for the Senate to pass a new measure so that the Comelec would be left with no choice but to extend voter registration until September 30.

“We will be able to pass this bill, a one-sentence bill, which would simply say that the registration is extended up to October 31, 2021. Pass it today, and after three days, pass it on Wednesday, send it to the House, so hopefully, we can have it approved before we adjourn,” Drilon said.

“We send it to the President for his signature. It is now up to the President whether or not to sign it, but at least, we tried to do our job,” the veteran lawmaker added.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri expressed support for the move.

“I could sponsor the bill tomorrow [Tuesday], and then after which, on Wednesday, we can approve it immediately, then pass it on third reading on Monday [September 27] next week, and hopefully, we can have the same measure approved in the House for concurrence,” Zubiri said.

Bureaucratic mindsets?

The Comelec has stuck to its September 30 registration deadline despite appeals from various groups and lawmakers for an extension due to the months of registration lost due to coronavirus-driven hard lockdowns.

Even Vice President Leni Robredo joined such calls on Sunday, September 19.

The Comelec, however, has cited operational concerns in rejecting calls for an extension, saying that moving the deadline would cause a domino effect on the other calendar activities and preparations of the election body.

On Tuesday, September 21, the Comelec said there was still no extension of voter registration despite the senators’ threats.

“The Commission has, thus far, not amended its position not to extend the deadline for voter registration,” Jimenez said.

“Congress unquestionably holds the power of the purse. For its part, Comelec, as the sole government entity tasked with the conduct of elections, can only do its utmost to ensure that it fulfills its mandate to hold secure, accurate, and free and fair elections,” he added.

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[EXPLAINER] Extend voter registration? Here’s a compromise

[EXPLAINER] Extend voter registration? Here’s a compromise

Pangilinan said on Monday he believes a month of extension would not undermine the Comelec’s preparations.

“I can only speculate, perhaps it’s the bureaucracy that is refusing to budge, and that they already have made their preparations and would just rather proceed,” Pangilinan said.

There are already over 61 million Filipinos eligible to cast their ballots for the 2022 polls. The Comelec previously said the number was beyond their initial projection of 59 million voters.

But the Philippine Statistics Authority’s projected voting population for the 2022 polls was over 73 million. Observers are worried that sticking to the original registration deadline which Comelec set would disenfranchise millions of voters. – Rappler.com