The right to vote is more technically called “suffrage.” It was first found in the US Constitution in 1787 (Dictionary.com). The Philippine Constitution provides: “Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines, not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.”
Clearly, it is not obligatory to exercise suffrage. It is due to this permissive provision of the Constitution that failure to cast one’s vote without justifiable excuse (an election offense under Section 261, sub-paragraph 1 of the Omnibus Election Code) is said to have been decriminalized. Under such 1978 penal provision, suffrage was more an obligation than a right.
However, the right to vote has evolved into a weapon of democracy. It is now regarded as a tool of people empowerment. The most recent development that illustrates this is the burgeoning right to vote of “persons with disabilities” (PWD) and detainees. The Comelec has recently issued several resolutions paving the way for PWD’s and detainees to register and to cast their votes. It is significant that the first time this was given official recognition and enforcement was during the automated elections of May 10, 2010. Credit must be given to Commissioner Rene Sarmiento. Despite the odds, he was able to implement a multi-agency and multi-sectoral movement to empower PWD’s and detainees. He worked with then Commission on Human Rights (CHR) Chair, Leila de Lima who aggressively spearheaded the move. She brought together BJMP, DILG, PNP, DepEd, Comelec, PCCRV, Namfrel, and various NGO’s. However, let us not forget Fr. Tony Ranada who, as Chairman of the PRESO Foundation, started it all even before 2001.
To advance further this new development on the exercise of suffrage, the Comelec has declared July 18 to 23 as PWD registration week. This is especially set for them while the regular registration of voters for all has been on-going from April 1, 2011 until October 31, 2012.
Hand in hand with this cause-oriented progress on the right to vote is the long-awaited improvement in the registration system. We do not just list the names, addresses, birthdays, and precinct of voters (demographics) anymore, but we now take also their photographs, fingerprints, and signature (biometrics). This is a paradigm shift on two counts: (1) It identifies a person objectively, no matter how he calls himself when he registers or no matter how we erroneously record his demographics; and (2) When interfaced with an automated voting machine, it will prevent the dead, non-residents, the multiple registrants, the unregistered, and the flying voters from ever voting again. It will also catch them red-handed.
Full Article: The right to vote | The Manila Times.