Thursday, 29 October 2009

Over 23,000 inmates register for 2010 polls

By Anna Valmero

MANILA, Philippines—An official from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) reported that over 23,000 detainees nationwide registered to vote in the 2010 national elections.

Elections Commissioner Rene Sarmiento told that 23,657 detainees or 43 percent of the total 54,866 detainees in 414 facilities of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP) have registered with the poll body between July and October 15.

Sarmiento, who also chairs the committee for detainee registration and voting, said this is the first time in the history of Philippine politics that detainees—who reside in the district or municipality where the detention facilities are located—have been allowed to register or update their voter records for the next elections.

Under the law, a person can vote in the elections if he has resided in the municipality where he intends to vote six months prior to the elections and at least a year in the country, said Sarmiento.

“The Comelec and its committee for detainee voting and registration laud the high registration turnout among our detainees—which is also a first in our country. Previously, I said we are targeting only 20,000 applicants but the numbers are beyond that,” said Sarmiento.

Of the total, about 90 percent or 21,090 were males and the rest, 2,567, were females, he said.

About 15,889 availed of the onsite enlistment in detention facilities and 7,768 registered in regular Comelec offices while being escorted by BJMP personnel, the poll official said.

Metro Manila had the highest detainee registration turnout at 5,677 followed by Calabarzon (Cavite-Laguna-Batangas-Rizal-Quezon) with 4,629 inmates, and Central Visayas with 2,137 inmates, according to the BJMP data.

Bicol had the least number of detainee voter applicants at 199.

Turnout in other regions are as follows: Western Visayas, 1,914 inmates; Northern Mindanao, 1,770 inmates; Zamboanga Peninsula, 1,582 inmates; Davao Region, 1,374 inmates; and Central Luzon, 1,183 inmates, BJMP reported.

Regions with turnout of below 1,000 include Eastern Visayas, 711 inmates; Ilocos Region, 669 inmates; Soccsksargen, 561 inmates; Caraga, 456 inmates; Cagayan Valley, 294 inmates; Mimaropa (Mindoro-Masbate-Romblon-Palawan), 262 inmates; and Cordillera Administrative Region, 239 inmates.

The data does not include registration turnout in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao because registration there started only on October 19, said Sarmiento.

Detainee voter issues

Detainees who are not convicted of any crime (punished by the Revised Penal Code, penal laws or regulations) are still presumed innocent of their accusations and retain their right of suffrage, he said.

Of about 60,000 inmates in Philippine jails, detainees comprise a big chunk of the population at 95 percent, BJMP statistics showed. It says the remaining five percent have been convicted and are thus disqualified to vote.

Detainees failed to exercise the right of suffrage in past elections due to “legal and administrative” limitations and their peculiar situation in terms of residence, said Sarmiento.

“Residence or permanent home is very crucial concept in the pursuit to exercise detainees’ right to vote. Residence determines the place where the detainee registers and votes and under the law, the detention facility cannot be used as a detainee's residence,” he said.

This is the reason why the registration can only be availed of by detainees who resided prior to incarceration in the city or municipality of detention for at least six months before Election Day because this address is the one recognized by law, he said.

“While the scope of the project is still limited, we are glad to empower our detainees with their right of suffrage. This is only a step toward fully emancipating our inmates to have a voice in selecting the country's next leaders,” said Sarmiento.

“By sheer number, Detainee votes can help dictate local results which are won by a slim margin of less than 100 votes,” he added.

Registration ends October 31 midnight.

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