FACTORY worker Ernest Mago has not been able to exercise his right to vote in the past two elections. Originally from Dipolog City, he moved to San Simon town, Pampanga together with his family in 2014 to seek a livelihood.
"Seven years na ako dito sa San Simon at simula nung lumipat ako, di pa ako nakakaboto. Di ako nakaboto ng presidente nung 2016 at nung 2019 rin," said Mago.
(I've been here in San Simon for seven years and since I moved, I haven't been able to vote.)
Mago and his family are now renting a house in Purok 3, Barangay San Isidro and he is working at Real Steel Corporation (RSC), a steel plant along Quezon Road.
"Iyong asawa ko botante na rin dito, naka-register na siya kaya naisipan ko na rin na magparehistro kapag nagkaoras," he said.
(My wife is also a voter here. She is already registered so I thought of registering when the time comes.)
On Wednesday, Mago, along with his coworkers trooped to the local Commission on Elections to transfer their voter's registration to finally practice his right to suffrage in the coming 2022 national and local polls.
However, what was supposedly a simple transaction suddenly became a subject of inquiry with the Chairman of the Election Board of Registration as two residents of Barangay San Isidro opposed the workers' move.
Agnes Cunanan, one of those who opposed, said they are opposing the transfer of voting rights of the workers as they are not legitimate residents of the municipality.
"Hindi naman sila taga-rito. Nagtatrabaho lang sila, kapag nakahanap sila ng ibang trabaho sa ibang lugar, aalis nalang sila bigla dito," she said.
(They are not from here. They just work here. When they find another job somewhere else, they just leave here suddenly.)
Cunanan also blamed the other workers of Real Steel whom she said also registered for voting in 2019 as the reason why she lost her bid for public office during the local polls that year.
For her part, RSC Human Resources Officer Jennelyn Salazar, who assisted their workers during the inquiry, asserted that it is the right of their workers to vote and the opposition's move to halt this is a suppression of their rights as Filipinos.
"Sabihin na po natin na hindi sila likas dito pero sa tagal na nilang naninirahan dito, siguro naman may karapatan naman na sila na magboto na rin sila at matanggap rin iyong assistance na para sa kanila naman bilang residente ng San Simon," she said, adding that a total of 367 workers are applying for registration starting yesterday.
(Let's just say that they are not native here but as long as they have lived here, they have the right to vote and also receive your assistance meant for them as residents of San Simon.)
She added, "Karamihan sa mga trabahador namin, taon na po ang itinagal sa kumpanya. Iyong iba galing sa malalayong lugar at lalo na ngayong pandemic, ang hirap makauwi sa kanilang mga lugar kaya sana, kahit nandito lang sila sa San Simon, makakaboto pa rin sila dahil hindi lang naman local ito darating na eleksyon kundi national din."
(Most of our workers have been with the company for years. Some came from faraway places and especially now that there is a pandemic, it is difficult to return to their places so hopefully, even if they are only here in San Simon, they will still be able to vote because this is not only a local election but also a national one.)
Meanwhile, San Simon Acting Election Officer and Chairman of Election Board of Registration Filomeno Eufenia, Jr. said there are already many instances in other places where workers were allowed to transfer their voter's registration.
He cited the same incident in Apalit town many years ago when then-Mayor Oscar Tetangco Jr. opposed the voters' registration of Ang Dating Daan members, but some were allowed after proving their residence in the town.
"Kung stay-in naman at doon sa mismong workplace ay parang may community kung saan pwede talaga silang mamuhay, at hindi lang iyong barracks na parang pahingahan, ibig sabihin nakatira talaga sila doon at nafufulfill nila yung required length of stay," he said.
(If they are stay-in and it seems like there is a community where they can really live and not just your barracks that are like a resting place, it means that they really live there and they have fulfilled the required length of stay.)
Eufenia added that they were able to visit the workers' barracks and were able to see that it is liveable and has a flea market where they can purchase essential goods.
"Kaya pinapunta na rin natin dito both camps para makita at mapakita ang sitwasyon at maaddress iyong mga concerns," he said.
(So we are also sending both camps here to see and reflect on the situation and address your concerns)
Eufenia, meanwhile, said the inquiry convened anew yesterday and expected to make a decision Friday.