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House panel okays online voters’ registration

Martin Romualdez
House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez

THE House committee on suffrage and electoral reforms has approved a consolidated measure, including the proposed law filed by House Majority Leader and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez mandating the government to adopt an online system for voters’ registration amid the coronavirus disease-19 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“Since the urgency of the online registration is something we really want to pass…[my] vote will be ‘yes’ [to approving the substitute bill],” said Negros Occidental Rep. Juliet Marie De Leon Ferrer, panel chairman.

The Ferrer committee endorsed for plenary action the substitute bill to House Bill (HB) Nos. 69, 578, 7063, 7411, and 7746, with the title “An Act strengthening the procedure for registration of voters and adopting a system of online registration, amending for the purpose certain sections of Republic Act 8189, otherwise known as the Voters’ Registration Act of 1996.”

“The coronavirus disease 2019 has brought numerous obstacles over the efforts of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to secure voters’ registration. Public health considerations and existing protocols have led to the Comelec’s suspension of its physical voter registration efforts,” said Romualdez, author of HB 7063 with the late Senior Citizens party-list Rep. Francisco “Jun” Datol Jr.

Datol Jr. was chairman of the House special committee on senior citizens at the time of his death last July due to COVID-19.

“With no immediate end for the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, it is believed that rather than wait for the pandemic to end, the Comelec should be pro-active and adopt innovative measures, such as online voters’ registration, to facilitate voters’ registration during the COVID-19 pandemic and for it to continually fulfill its mandate of protecting the Filipinos’ right of suffrage,” Romualdez explained on the consolidated bill seeking to institutionalize a system of online voter registration in the country.

HB 7063 seeks to amend RA No. 8184, otherwise known as the “Voters’ Registration Act of 1996,” to ensure an “enabling environment” for people to register as voters amid the pandemic crisis.

“By adopting a system for online voters’ registration, we do not just make our electoral system more resilient to unexpected calamities such as the COVID-19 pandemic but we also create a system that provides the Filipino electorate and our government an efficient, convenient, and cost-effective mechanism for voters’ registration in the long term,” Romualdez stressed.

HB 7063 provides that the personal or electronic filing of application of registration of voters shall be conducted daily in the office of the election officer during regular office hours or through the official website for such purpose as designated by the commission.

The bill provides that to register as a voter, he or she shall personally or electronically accomplish an application form for registration as prescribed by the commission in three copies before the election officer on any date during office hours or through the official website for such purpose as designated by the commission after having acquired the qualifications of a voter.

“The application for registration shall contain three specimen signatures of the applicant, clear and legible rolled prints of his left and right thumbprints, with four identification size copies of his latest photograph, submitted personally or through electronic means, attached thereto, to be taken at the expense of the commission,” the measure said.

In case of online submission of a completed voter’s registration by an individual, the bill provides that the commission shall send the individual a notice confirming the commission’s receipt of the application and providing instructions on how the individual may check the status of the application.

“Furthermore, the commission shall employ security measures which are necessary to ensure the accuracy and integrity of electronically submitted voter registration applications,” it added.

The measure provides that within 30 days from the effectivity of this Act, the Comelec, in consultation with Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT), Department of Science and Technology (DoST), Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), National Commission for Senior Citizens, and other stakeholders, is tasked to promulgate the implementing rules and regulations of the proposed Act.