Millions of voters risk disenfranchisement

Posted at 11/13/12 6:32 PM

MANILA, Philippines – An unknown number of registered voters with no biometrics registration for photos, fingerprints and signatures with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) are in danger of being disenfranchised or not being allowed to vote in the May 2013 mid-term elections.

This, after the Senate passed on its 3rd and final reading on Monday a bill making the biometrics registration of voters mandatory.

The House of Representatives approved its own version of the bill with similar provisions back in May 23, 2011.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said those who failed to have their biometrics registered by the last day of registration last October 31, 2012 will be disenfranchised with the approval of the law.

Brillantes could not yet give the exact number of those without biometrics. As of October 12, there were 8 million registered voters with no biometrics.

It is possible that those without biometrics registration gave their biometrics before the October 31 deadline.

The poll body is now in the process of validating the registration of those who beat the deadline to register.

Biometrics refers to data like photos, signature and thumbprints of voters which are captured by the Comelec for the purposes of identifying and weeding out multiple registrants and flying voters.

Before the enactment of the bill, only those registering for the first time, those transferring their registration, and those who are reactivating their deactivated registrations were subjected to mandatory biometrics registration.

Brillantes explained that previously, those with active registration were still allowed to vote even without biometrics capture.

Brillantes said there was a large turn out of registrants towards the tail end of the continuing registration.

Now that the bills for mandatory biometrics registration have been approved by both chambers of Congress, it will go through the bicameral conference committee to reconcile its clashing provisions before being sent to President Aquino for his signature.

Brillantes said, however, implementing the law in time for the 2013 elections would be unfair.

"Kung nilabas ‘yan 2 to 3 months ago, that would compel everyone to go into biometrics,” he said.

Brillantes said the only recourse is to re-open voter registration which he said the poll body is not inclined to do unless ordered by the Supreme Court.

Local election boards are now going through the applications of those who registered before the deadline, after which the data will go through the automated fingerprint identification system to weed out multiple registrants.

On Monday,  Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, chairman of the Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation, said the implementation of Senate Bill No. 1030 "will allow a thorough cleansing of the national voters' registry that will reduce, if not eliminate, cheating and ensure that the result of elections are reflective of the genuine will of the people.”

"We can ensure that the automated fingerprint identification system, the AFIS, may be utilized to read the national voters registration of double or multiple registrants," Pimentel said during his sponsorship speech.

Pimentel said voters who fail to submit for validation for the purposes of the 2013 national and local elections despite due notice shall be deactivated from the registration record of voters by the Election Registration Board (ERB) concerned.

Senator Lito Lapid authored the Senate version of the bill while the House version was authored by Rep. Susan Yap.