Comelec official seeks one-week extension for registration

By Chris Ligan, Dale G. Israel
Cebu Daily News
Last updated 03:26pm (Mla time) 07/17/2007

Cebu, Philippines – The huge turnout of registrants for the barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) (youth council) elections has prompted Cebu City South district election officer Edwin Cadungog to ask for a week’s extension of the registration to accommodate all those who want to cast their votes this October.


Cadungog told Cebu Daily News the eight-day period is not enough for them to accommodate the expected 12,000 new voters for both barangay and SK elections.


He said the south and north district Commission on Elections (Comelec) offices in Cebu City could only accommodate a maximum of 1,000 registrants a day.


Marchel Sarno, the south district election officer, agreed with Cadungog’s proposal to have the registration extended to accommodate the applicants but he doubted if the move is feasible.


“I believe an extension for the registration is a good idea but as to the legality or feasibility of such request, I have doubts,” Sarno said.


He said based on Republic Act 8189 or the Continuing Registration Act, there will be no registration 120 days before the elections and the extension of the registration will fall within the prescribed period.


“The Comelec has no power to extend it. It should be the congress, who should settle it because an extension would enter into the 120 days,” Sarno said.


Acting provincial election supervisor Lionel Marco Castillano said an extension is very unlikely because July 29, 30 and 31 is already reserved for the Election Registration Board to assess all new registrants.


Castillano said an extension would depend on the Commission en banc and would be decided on or before July 22, the deadline of registration.


The heavy turnout of new registrants caused a disorder at the two Comelec offices in Cebu City since Sunday. But it turned out that the problem was not confined to Cebu City alone.


The Mandaue City Comelec office had stopped accepting new voter applicants for the barangay polls yesterday because it could no longer accommodate them.


In fact, the Comelec office located at the back of the Mandaue City Sports Complex had a “notice” posted to its front doors announcing that the office could no longer accept additional applications for the barangay polls.


Mandaue City election officer Ferdinand Gujilde pointed to the lack of staff and equipment as the reasons why they have to stop accepting registrants.


The digital camera used to take photos of voters can only accommodate 300 people per day at a rate of about 10 minutes per person.


“(Considering) the sheer number of voters, we cannot accommodate everybody,” Gujilde said, adding “We stretched a bit and decided to accommodate up to 500 people instead of just 300.”


Gujilde said those who want to cast their votes in the barangay elections but can no longer be accommodated by Comelec within the eight-day period can file a “petition for inclusion” in the courts.


On Sunday, the Cebu City Comelec office was only able to register 500 voters of the 1,000 who trooped there from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. The rest who lined up were given priority numbers and asked to return on Monday.


Those with priority numbers were made to lineup, while the newcomers were made to form a separate line.


As of Monday noon, around 700 to 800 people have again lined-up and Sarno said he would again issue priority numbers for them to return on Tuesday.


Sarno said they expected at least 12,000 applicants in the north district alone but for the eight-day duration, they might be able to register only 6,000 voters as they only have two data capturing machines.


Going there early in the morning would not also help said Sarno because the Comelec office cannot accommodate them simultaneously.


Nor would he agree to give out priority numbers in the morning to avoid suspicions of favoritism or partisanship.


“It’s better if they lineup because everybody would see. But we will evaluate whether it’s effective or not, we are willing to change tactics in case it’s not effective,” Sarno said.


Nevertheless, Sarno assured that the Comelec will do its best to fasttrack the process.


“Let’s be frank, we cannot accommodate all of them due to our limited equipment,” north district election officer Marchel Sarno said.


Sarno so far has the crowd under control. Applicant were given chairs outside the Comelec office and shielded from the sun under temporary tents.


Only 20 persons were allowed to go inside the Comelec office at a time.


It was noticed that most of the applicants were fetched by the service multicab and other vehicles of the different barangays.


But Comelec officials said there is no prohibition in barangay officials helping their constituents to register.


In contrast, Monday’s second day of registration saw the crowd in the north district becoming unruly.


Applicants complained that they had lined up as early as 5 a.m. but that they were not attended to until noontime.


Some irritated applicants went as far as challenging the police with one trying to grab a young policemen who was guarding the main door of the Comelec north district office.


In Mandaue, an applicant shall first seek a priority number wherein they will be given an “appointment paper” as to when they will be accommodated for the registration process.


“This is the system here so they don’t have to lineup to avoid chaos,” Gujilde explained.


The appointment paper will tell the applicant the scheduled date and time as to when the registration, process including the digital photo imaging for the identification card (ID), will be conducted.


Meanwhile, the SK registration did not encounter the same problem as the barangay because their numbers were not as huge and they are not required for the data capturing system.


To ensure that majority of the new voters can register, Cadungog distributed the registration forms for the applicants for SK elections to the barangays but the registrants must go to his office and personally affix their signature to the form.


“Those are not accountable forms. The law did not say the applicants must fill up the form in the Comelec office. It only stated that the form must be filed at the Comelec office,” Cadungog explained.


Sarno did not adopt the system used by Cadungog.


He said his own interpretation of the law, which is shared by Castillano, is that the registration must be done in the Comelec office.


“This is my own opinion sa Comelec resolution. The form will only be given after interviewing the applicant,” Sarno said.


He said distributing the forms in the barangays would benefit the incumbent barangay officials who are supporting candidates for the SK officials.


“Possibly ma-partisan if I will do that. I would rather choose the inconvenient controlling the crowd as long as the registration shall be made in the Office of the Comelec,” Sarno said. /With Reports From Jhunnex Napallacan, Bernadette A. Parco And Suzanne Salva-Alueta


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