President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday warned he is ready to “use the might of the military” to ensure a peaceful and violence-free elections next year.
“Nobody wants trouble. Nobody wants cheating. So, I am begging you.
I’m pleading, almost praying, that people will really stick to the rule of law and avoid violence,” the President said during yesterday’s inauguration of the new Sultan Kudarat Provincial Hospital in town.
“Either that we have an election that is free or I will use the military to see to it that the election is free [from any violence].
The military is the guardian of our country and I could call them anytime to see to it that people are protected and elections are freely and orderly exercised,” the commander-in-chief added.
On Friday, the Commission on Elections said Friday it would weigh the pros and cons next week of extending voter registration beyond the Sept. 30 deadline in the wake of public and congressional pressure.
Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said top poll officials would meet next week and present their recommendations to the en banc meeting on Wednesday.
"By considering voter registration at this late date, the Comelec is effectively playing with fire. But this is a challenge we're willing to take in the service of the Filipino electorate," Jimenez said in the press conference.
The Comelec had earlier turned down appeals to extend voter registration until Oct. 31, saying that doing so would derail crucial election preparations.
"We would like to apologize for our polite rejection of the request,”
Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas told senators during his agency’s budget hearing.
But Jimenez said at the press conference that the Comelec changed its position due to "public clamor."
"We're open to this now because of the public clamor,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “We’ve heard a lot of complaints from the public.”
Jimenez said the management committee meeting would tackle logistics involved in an extension of the deadline.
Earlier, the Comelec said it had reached its target number of voters for 2022, with about 62 million registered.
The Senate finance subcommittee on Friday deferred deliberations on the Comelec’s proposed 2022 budget as senators wanted the poll body’s commissioners to reconsider their position on the extension.
During a budget hearing, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said
Republic Act 8189 mandates continuing voter registration and said this was affirmed by the Supreme Court in its ruling on the Kabataan party-list vs. Comelec.
Drilon said the poll body can extend the period of voter registration as long as it is not done during the period starting 120 days before a regular election.
Not extending voter registration, he said, would be a “grave abuse of discretion” and a form of voter suppression, given that many voters could not go out to register during the lockdown.
“The refusal to extend the registration period is clearly a regulation to suppress the right to vote,” Drilon said. “That is a cardinal sin in our democratic system of government.”
Drilon moved to defer the budget of the Comelec until the issue is resolved.
The Senate had recently adopted a resolution urging the Comelec to extend the deadline for voter registration.
The Comelec is asking Congress for a P4.307 billion regular budget for 2022. This is on top of the P13.63 billion allocated for the conduct of the national and local elections next year.
The House of Representatives' committee on suffrage and electoral reforms on Friday also approved a bill that extends the voter registration process to Oct. 31, 2021.
During the House hearing, Elections Commissioner Aimee Ferolino defended the poll body's position not to extend the registration period.
"Please understand that our people are getting sick, our people are dying. In the commission’s last en banc meeting alone, we approved six financial aid [packages] for people who died in the field. We are exposed to other health hazards in addition to the COVID virus," Ferolino said.
She also said the election 2022 timeline is so tight that a month-long extension would be impossible.
HB 10261—filed by Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, Majority Leader Ferdinand Martin Romualdez and Minority Leader Joseph Stephen Paduano—seeks to compel the Comelec to extend the Sept. 30, 2021 deadline for voter registration.
The House leaders said the extension of voter registration would prevent “massive voter disenfranchisement” brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.