The First Time

15 01 2007

Monday, 15 January 2007

Youth voters can give candidates a big headway

ASSUMING THERE’S an election in May 2007, all new voters must have registered with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) by December 30. By then, there will be roughly 8 million Filipinos aged 18 to 21—all of them eligible to cast their first vote.

Eight million votes can make a senator. The new voters can group themselves, too, and bring solid votes for party-list representatives in Congress. (Party-list organizations need about 300,000 votes to win one seat.)

This is what a new advocacy group called First Time Voters Project (FTVP) is aiming at. “We want all the youth to be able to vote in May 2007. But to be able to do that, they must register first,” says FTVP executive director Marie Chris Cabreros, 22.

FTVP is an association of youth groups nationwide led by Akbayan Youth, Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, First-Time Voters Network, Movement for the Advancement of Student Power, and Alyansa ng Nagkakaisang Lakas ng Kabataan.

It was launched in December 2000 as a campaign to extend the registration of first-time voters. At that time, many college students joined protest groups to call for the ouster of then President Joseph Estrada. Political interest was high and the senatorial election, five months away.

To the youth’s disappointment, however, they discovered that voter registration ends every December 30 of the year prior to the election year. They collectively asked for more time to organize the youth to register so that they could vote in the 2001 elections. They remember that about five million voters were disenfranchised in the 1998 elections.

Cabreros blames COMELEC’s “poor information campaign” for the 1998 voter disenfranchisement. “They didn’t inform us about the deadline,” she says. When they renewed their campaign for voter registration in December 2000, no less than then Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took notice. She went to the rallies of youth groups that gathered in COMELEC grounds and told them that she was supporting their campaign.

A special session was called in Congress to extend the registration process, but this did not prosper. This, FTVP claims, caused the disenfranchisement of two million voters in the 2001 senatorial elections.

FTVP has since worked with the COMELEC to ensure that a massive voter disenfranchisement does not occur again. They hold symposia in schools at least twice every semester per school, says Cabreros. FTVP invites the speakers and the COMELEC provides the materials. The theme for next year’s elections is “I am the future” and posters are seen nationwide.

The youth seem to have the strength in numbers. In the 1992 presidential election, candidate Miriam Defensor Santiago made the youth the backbone of her campaign; she lost by a narrow margin to Fidel Ramos. The late Raul Roco did the same in 1998, when he ran for president, and in 2004, in his second bid for the presidency.

Roco had claimed that the youth were his biggest voters. Darwin Mariano was 19 year-old when he sent an e-mail to an address listed in Roco’s campaign posters and offered his support. Roco himself answered his e-mail and instructed him to gather his friends to register and ask these friends to do the same.

“It’s like pyramiding,” Mariano says. Aksyon Kabataan, which grouped together youth volunteers for Roco, was formed with Mariano as the founding president. Now 29, Mariano remains active in the organization, which is preparing for the possible senatorial bid of the late senator’s wife, Sonia. “She has expressed her interest to run if there will be elections in May 2007,” Mariano says.

It was one of the late senator’s wishes that “the party must survive me,” says Mariano. “He’s right. We still need the youth to register and vote.”

-By Carmela Fonbuena




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