CHR chair bats for reforms vs voter disenfranchisement

18 09 2008

Written by Purple Romero

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson Leila De Lima has called for a rights-based approach to voting in the 2010 elections to prevent vulnerable, marginalized sectors and first-time voters from being disenfranchised.

De Lima said 73 percent or 32 million of the 45 million registered voters participated in the 2007 local elections. Many of the 27% or 12 million who didn’t vote include first-time voters plus those from marginalized and vulnerable sectors of society.

De Lima said first-time voters may be shut out from the elections due to inadequate mechanisms that secure efficient compliance with voter registration.

She cited the case of Akbayan-Youth vs. Comelec in 2001, where the Supreme Court denied Akbayan-Youth’s petition for the extension of voter registration due to the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) procedural limitations.

In its petition, Akbayan-Youth asked for a special two-day registration in February 2001 after around four million young Filipinos failed to meet the December 2000 deadline for voter registration.

The COMELEC junked the request, citing its rule against the holding of registration 120 days before regular elections are to be conducted.

Untapped votes

Aside from the first-time voters, De Lima identified the following as vulnerable voter groups:

  • internally displaced;
  • indigenous communities;
  • detainees;
  • differently-abled; and,
  • elderly.

The internally-displaced are often victims of hostilities between government forces and rebel groups in Mindanao, particularly in the provinces of North Cotabato, Sarangani, South Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

She stated that in these areas, only around 67 percent of the registered voters were able to participate in the elections.

Indigenous communities also comprise a huge base of untapped voters.

Figures from the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, Kalipunan ng Katutubong Mamamayan ng Pilipinas and the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples showed that Filipinos from tribal communities number from 6 million-12 million, or about 10-15 percent of the national population. De Lima did not give an estimate how many of these indigenous peoples are entitled to vote.

The same goes for the elderly. De Lima said that the senior population, or those aged 60 and above, totals 4.6 million. While around 7 percent of them suffer from disabilities such as poor vision and even blindness, more than 57 percent are still actively part of the workforce.

She said that slow justice also hampers a citizen’s right to vote, as 95 percent of those in prison have not been sentenced. If found innocent, detainees could be immediately freed and accorded the opportunity to register and participate again in the elections.

In the case of the handicapped, De Lima slammed the lack of facilities that could help them cast their vote. She said that the disabled are even assigned to third-floor precincts. She said that policy failure has prevented the establishment of convenient areas for handicapped voters.

Rights-centered strategy

De Lima said that a rights-based approach could give vulnerable groups access to the elections.

She stressed that a rights-based approach encourages “heightened accountability in the identification of claimholders, or the public, and their entitlements, and duty-holders or the government officials, and their obligations.”

It also empowers voters and supports a paradigm-shift in election participation.

De Lima said that public officials and election authorities should strive for a more “free and meaningful participation, not mere formal or ceremonial contacts with beneficiaries.”  (




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