By Ferdinand Patinio and Wilnard Bacelonia

Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri (PNA file photo by Avito Dalan) 

MANILA – Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Wednesday said the PHP13 billion savings from simultaneously holding the 2025 midterm elections and the plebiscite to amend the economic provisions of the 1987 Constitution can be used to boost other programs.

In a statement, Zubiri said the “strategic move” not only streamlines the electoral processes but also saves valuable resources.

“PHP13 billion is a significant amount that could be allocated towards critical infrastructure projects and social programs that will benefit our nation,” Zubiri said, welcoming Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairperson George Garcia’s statement, saying the midterm polls and the plebiscite can be held simultaneously.

He said the amount can fund the construction of around 5,200 classrooms.

“I agree with the position of the Comelec. With limited resources and competing priorities, it is imperative that we maximize every peso spent to address the most pressing needs of our citizens, and it also aligns with the vision of the President for the country,” Zubiri said.

Senator Sonny Angara, who filed Resolution of Both Houses No. 6 (RBH 6) with Zubiri and suggested holding the plebiscite with the midterm elections, said he was delighted to know that President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. agreed with the idea.

In an interview before flying to Australia Wednesday, Marcos said holding the 2025 midterm elections and the plebiscite would result in “huge savings” for the government.

Angara hoped to bring the RBH 6 to the plenary before the President’s State of the Nation Address in July.

“Palagay ko may oras. It’s only March. Marami pang buwan bago mag-October, so, maraming oportunidad para plantsahin ‘yung mga detalye (I think we have the time. It’s only March. There are still a lot of months before October, so there are a lot of opportunities to finalize the details),” he said.

Angara, chairperson of the Senate subcommittee on RBH 6, leads the discussions on the proposed amendments.

Invited in the continuing discussions next week are representatives from educational institutions.

Poll watchdog agrees

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) also agreed with the plan to hold the plebiscite for Charter amendments and the 2025 midterm elections at the same time.

“Separate activities could be costly and difficult to operationalize,” PPCRV spokesperson Ana Singson said in a phone interview Thursday.

Singson, however, expressed concern about the possible longer voting time in case the simultaneous holding of the electoral exercises pushes through.

“Should the plebiscite and the midterm elections be held simultaneously, we should be mindful to ensure that the voting process and experience are as facile and as streamlined as possible since any additions and changes to the system could result in longer voting time, longer lines, and possible disenfranchisement,” she said.

Singson urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a time and motion study on the voting process.

“If held simultaneously, time and motion studies as well as studies on navigability, given our new voting machines, should be conducted,” she added.

Overwhelming turnout

The Comelec, meanwhile, admitted that it was surprised with the public’s response to voter registration activities nationwide.

“In our entire voter registration process, the numbers are highly unusual and extraordinary. We were surprised. In the past, during the first days of voter registration, only a few were coming. But now, many of our countrymen are coming to our registration sites,” Comelec chairperson George Erwin Garcia said in an interview.

He attributed the high numbers to the expansion of the Register Anywhere Program (RAP) across the country.

“We believe that the RAP is causing the increase. It is being patronized by the people,” said Garcia.

Under the RAP, any qualified applicant residing anywhere in the Philippines may register at the RAP booths by submitting their application form, and documentary requirements and have their biometrics taken on-site.

The submitted documents and captured biometrics data shall then be endorsed and transmitted by the recipient RAP teams to the Office of the Election Officer of the district/city/municipality having jurisdiction over the residence of the applicant.

As of Wednesday, the Comelec logged 784,831 applicants since the start of the voter registration period on Feb. 12.

It is looking to register some 3 million voters during the seven-month voter registration period that runs until Sept. 30. (PNA)