SC junks petition to extend voters’ registration until Jan. 8, 2016

By Perfecto T. Raymundo Jr.

MANILA, Dec. 8 (PNA) — The Supreme Court (SC) dismissed for lack of merit on Tuesday the petition filed by the Kabataan Party-list seeking to extend until Jan. 8, 2016 the registration of voters for the May 9, 2016 elections, which expired last Oct. 31.

In a press conference, SC Public Information Office (PIO) Chief and Spokesman Atty. Theodore O. Te said “major changes to Comelec’s timeline can no longer be permitted without jeopardizing preparations for 2016 elections.”

“Comelec had given voters sufficient time to register (from May 6, 2014 to October 31, 2015),” Te added.

In its comment, the Comelec argued that it has the authority to fix the deadline for filing applications for registration and disagreed with petitioners on the import of the 120-day period in Republic Act No. 8189.

The Comelec also argued that the 120/90 day periods are not the determining points for the last day to file applications for registration but rather they fix the minimum periods when registration is not allowed.

The Comelec added that it had to set the deadline for filing of applications for registration on Oct. 31, 2015, otherwise its preparations for the May 2016 elections would be gravely prejudiced.

In its resolution, the SC agreed with the Comelec that the 120 days is not the reckoning point for determining the last day of filing of applications for registration because the law providing for the 120/90 day periods only determines when registration is no longer allowed.

The SC added that it does not mandate that the period for registration should be up to that time.

It also agreed with the Comelec that it is allowed to lengthen the 120- and 90-day periods of “no registration” on account of administrative necessities and other exigencies.

The SC noted that there are certain pre-election acts that are dependent upon the completion of registration and that requiring the Comelec to extend the period for filing applications for registration will gravely affect its rigid and strict timeline.

It also noted that the Comelec had given voters sufficient time to file their applications for registration from May 6, 2014 to Oct. 31, 2015 but these voters failed to do so for causes not attributable to the Comelec.

The SC stressed that the petitioners had not given any justifiable reason for failing to register within the prescribed period and also for waiting until the last minute to file their application.

The Kabataan Party-list, along with several other youth leaders, filed a petition before the SC questioning the legality of two resolutions released by the Comelec that set the said registration deadline.

Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon filed the urgent petition for certiorari and mandamus, with application for mandatory injunction, praying for the extension of voter registration up to Jan. 8, 2016.

The other petitioners were Sarah Jane Elago, national president of the National Union of Students of the Philippines; Vencer Crisostomo, chairperson of Anakbayan; Marjohara Tucay, national president of Kabataan Party-list; Marc Lino Abila, national president of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines; Lean Porquia, national president of the BPO Industry Employees Network; Charisse Bañez, chairperson of the League of Filipino Students; and University of the Philippines student Enriko Caramat.

The petition cited Section 8 of the Voter’s Registration Act which states that “The personal filing of application of registration of voters shall be conducted daily in the office of the Election Officer during regular office hours. No registration shall, however, be conducted during the period starting one hundred twenty days before a regular election and ninety days before a special election.”

In the 24-page petition, the petitioners cited several aggravating circumstances that make the extension of the voters registration period compelling.

“Comelec has admitted in media releases that several problems have been encountered during the period of registration of voters, namely, long queues and waiting, with some registration centers receiving up to 1,000 registrants per day; insufficient registration documents; malfunctioning or insufficient number of data capturing machines (DCM); and that DCM, which records the voters’ fingerprints, photographs and pertinent information, can only process around 250 applications a day,” the petition said.

“An aggravating factor in this issue is the respondent’s implementation of the ‘No Bio, No Boto’ policy, which automatically delists registered voters who fail to have their biometrics data captured, pursuant to Republic Act No. 10367 or the ‘Mandatory Biometrics Voter Registration Act’,” it added.

“An additional aggravating circumstance in this issue is the fact that the respondent suspended the registration for voters in all Comelec offices for a week – from October 12 to 16 – to give way to the scheduled filing of certificates of candidacy (CoCs) of national and local candidates,” the petitioners said.

“This fact in itself is a violation of R.A. 8189, which provides for a system of continuing registration of voters that shall be conducted daily, except for the period starting one hundred twenty (120) days before a regular election,” they added.

“With the very high volume of first-time registrants and voters in the May 9, 2016 elections, the October 31, 2015 deadline set by respondent for the filing of application of registration of voters provided is utterly insufficient to accommodate first-time youth registrants, voters without biometrics, and voters highly eager to participate in the May 9, 2016 elections,” the petitioners said. (PNA)