MANILA, Philippines?About 25 million of the 48 million registered voters may have to register again.
These are people who had enlisted with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to vote but had not turned in their biometric information?a digitally captured picture, fingerprint and signature.
They would, however, still be allowed to vote even though they don?t have the biometrics material, Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento told reporters Tuesday.
?While we can compel voters to undergo biometrics, there can be no penalty because the right to vote is not a criminal offense under the Constitution,? he said.
Sarmiento said that all voters, including those who had registered earlier, were obliged to submit their biometrics after this was made mandatory under the law allocating funds for the automation of the 2010 elections.
Since the election automation law was passed in January 2007, about 23 million voters have registered their biometrics.
?The opinion of our congressmen is that biometrics should be mandatory? Before, we thought it was optional. So now, with that authority, we will require about 25 million voters to go back to election offices,? Sarmiento said.
But he acknowledged that it would be very difficult to ensure that all of them would be able to submit the necessary information by Oct. 31, the registration deadline.
Though there is no penalty for failing to submit to a biometrics capture, Sarmiento said people should submit to it in order to help the Comelec cleanse its voters? list.
Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez insisted Tuesday that biometrics registration was mandatory, and that the Comelec should see to it that voters know this.
LGUs urged to help but ?
Representatives Carlos Padilla of Nueva Vizcaya and Ma. Milagros Magsaysay of Zambales Tuesday also urged the Comelec to see to it that local government officials were not depriving would-be voters in rival political camps of the chance to register.
Padilla and Magsaysay said that Comelec officials tended to ask for assistance from local government units (LGUs) in handling voter registration because of their lack of manpower.
Because of these ties with the LGUs, registration in some areas has become ?seasonal,? depending on whom the people who want to register support.
There have been instances when computers to be used were broken whenever the supporters of the rivals would try to register, according to the two lawmakers.
?Usually, the Comelec asks for help from LGUs to implement the registration, and there were complaints that if the supporters of [the incumbent?s] rival ask for help, the Comelec officer will say that the machine is broken,? Magsaysay told a hearing of the House oversight committee.
Padilla also said that people in his district had to travel three to four hours across mountains just to be able to get to the Comelec office in town.
?Imagine after four hours of an ordeal, only to be told the machine broke down? He will not return [to register] anymore,? Padilla said.
He suggested that the Comelec write to the local officials to remind them that this practice had been noticed and should be stopped.
Magsaysay also suggested that the Comelec request for additional budget in case more election officers were needed so that they would not have to ask for help from local officials.
Sarmiento said the concerns had already been brought to the Comelec en banc, and it has already passed a resolution prohibiting its personnel from seeking assistance from local politicians.
?Registration should be nonpartisan,? Sarmiento said.
Sarmiento also said that while it may be feasible to include a plebiscite or the election of constitutional convention delegates in the 2010 polls, he said it may be ?messy.?
?This is an issue that is complex because this involves the fundamental law. Before the plebiscite, there must be massive information drive and discussions among our people because we are tinkering with the Constitution. For me, this complicates the whole matter,? he said.
Sarmiento added that amending the fundamental law of the land involved more than just a plebiscite to get the people?s approval.
?We can add one section [to the ballot] but what about the significance, the import of this activity? For the information drive for poll automation, we need sufficient time. So how much more if you add plebiscite?? Sarmiento said.