No, we won’t pander to deadline beaters

James Jimenez
Today is the last day for the registration of voters. I can only hope that it might also be the first day that deadline beaters realize the error of their ways.

JAMES JIMENEZSo today is the last day of voter registration. Commission on Elections (Comelec) offices nationwide have been accepting applications for registration almost continuously since May 2011, taking a break for Christmas of that year and during the general registration in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao this year. All in all, that comes out to about 16 months of voter registration, from Monday to Saturday, including holidays.

You can imagine, then, the frustration I’ve been feeling since the start of October when tweets – Twitter is my stomping ground more than Facebook – started popping up, slamming the Comelec for the difficulty people were experiencing as they tried to beat the deadline.

Despite this registration cycle being the most publicized ever, apparently some people still had no qualms claiming they weren’t informed. For the record, the media – both traditional and social – contributed greatly to the effort to keep voter registration at the forefront of the popular consciousness.

Newspapers have printed reminders; television networks have held registration drives; radio programs have devoted entire shows to nothing but information dissemination; and netizens have promoted voting and voter registration with as much zeal as they have promoted their own personal advocacies.

Less directly perhaps, but no less effectively, political events on the national stage have also contributed to the widespread awareness about voter registration. After the impeachment trial, for instance, we monitored a wave of social media postings from people proclaiming that they had been inspired to participate more actively in the politics of the nation.

The same was true – although much more indirectly – with the public’s online response to the prolonged rains that inundated many parts of Metro Manila.

And of course, how could people miss the politicians with their faces plastered all over the place – reminders to participate in elections that were about as subtle as a steel chair to the face.

All of that contributed to the very palpable political awakening of the Filipino, and contributed to the steady stream of registrants throughout the country. The going got so good that, in a moment of giddiness, I actually told someone that I expected the last few days to be not as bad as they used to be. “There will be stragglers for sure,” I said – sounding, in hindsight, as naive as a high school sophomore – “but there will be fewer of them.”

Apparently not.

As October rolled in, the deadline beaters quickly gave the lie to my bright-eyed assessment. So, as I was saying, you can imagine my frustration, especially online.

Now don’t get me wrong. I know that social networks are places for people to vent, and since I work for the most beloved government institution in the history of humanity, I’ve learned not to be too devastated by the comments that I see.

Instead of lashing back at the criticisms hurled our way, we sift through the words for constructive content and just accept the abuse. In that way, we’ve helped a fair number of netizens get their concerns sorted out.

However, the closer we got to the deadline, tweets began popping up that didn’t just complain about the long lines, but which tended to point to the difficulties they were experiencing as a justification for what was – independently of how difficult it was to register – a disturbingly cavalier attitude towards what should rightly be considered one of the most fundamental rights of any citizen in a democracy.

I admit, that one caught me off guard. I mean, it’s one thing to complain about deficiencies in the system – that, we can correct – but to rationalize indifference by pointing to a difficulty that millions of others easily avoided by simply not waiting for the deadline, just seemed to me to be basically wrong.

Unable to contain my dismay, I retweeted that message – omitting the person’s handle, lest I be called a bully – in the hope that the author would be able to see his own words from a distance and realize how ridiculous he sounded.

And he wasn’t alone either.

Keeping in mind that there were already millions of registrants before today, one has to wonder whether the problem truly is with the deadline or with the brinksmanship that these two tried to play at.

I am aware that there are those who say that deadline beaters shouldn’t be taken to task for either their lackadaisical approach to a vital human right that they claim they want dearly to exercise, or for their attitude towards a Comelec that has so far refused to give an extension to the registration period.

And yet, I must admit, that my instinct to sympathize is finding it very difficult to overcome my awareness that most deadline beaters never faced insurmountable hindrances to registration; I confess that I see no substantial distinction between those who, despite their schedules and personal responsibilities, found the time to register earlier, and those who are now pounding their chests and claiming disenfranchisement simply because they came too late to sign-up; I must declare that we do the greater number of responsible citizens a grave disservice when we pander to the irresponsibility of those whose commitment to the vital elements of democracy are tenuous at best and at worst, mere lip-service.

Today is the last day for the registration of voters. I can only hope that – given the experiences of the last couple of weeks – it might also be the first day that deadline beaters realize the error of their ways. –

(James Jimenez is the director of the Comelec Education and Information Department. He is also the poll body’s official spokesperson. This piece, originally titled “Today is the last day” and which first appeared on to express his personal views, has been republished on Rappler with his permission.)

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