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SUFFRAGE

Meaning of Suffrage
Suffrage is the right and obligation to vote. It is a political right conferred by the Constitution empowering a citizen
to participate in the process of government which makes the State truly democratic and republican. Section 1,
Article V, however, provides that “suffrage may be exercised…” thus, making it non-mandatory. Failure to exercise
such right is not punishable by law, but nonetheless makes a citizen irresponsible. In other words, suffrage is an
obligation but a non-mandatory one.

When Suffrage may be Exercised


Suffrage is exercised not only during elections, but also during initiatives, referendums, plebiscite, and recalls.
Election is the means by which the people choose their representatives who are entrusted the exercise of the powers
of the government. Initiative is the means by which people directly propose and enact laws, that is, they initiate the
law-making process. Referendum refers to process by which the people ratify or reject a law or part thereof referred
or submitted to them by the national or local law-making body. Plebiscite entails a process by which the people
either ratify or reject an amendment or revision to the Constitution. And recall is a mode of removing an incumbent
official from office by a vote of the people upon proper registration of a petition signed by the required number of
qualified voters. In all these instances, a qualified citizen can rightfully exercise suffrage.

Who may Exercise Suffrage


1. Qualified Citizens Only. Suffrage can be exercised only by a citizen of the Philippines, who has none of the
disqualifications, at least eighteen years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at
least one year and of the place where he intends to vote for at least six months immediately preceding the election
(Section 1, Article V). Suffrage is an attribute of citizenship, and therefore aliens cannot exercise the same.

2. Reason for Lowering the Voting Age. The voting age was lowered down from 21 to 18 years old to broaden the
electoral base. If the voting age is 21, then only a small percentage of the total population of the Philippines can vote.
Moreover, according to psychologists, 18 to 21 year-old Filipino youth, living in urban or rural areas, have the same
political maturity. This is affirmed in many provisions of Philippine law, in that the marrying age, the age when
someone can enter into a contract, and the age when someone can be called to defend the State, is 18 years old. It
must be noted, however, “registration” may be done before reaching the age of majority for as long as the voter is 18
years old on the day of the election.

3. Explanation of Residency Requirement. A citizen, in order to be qualified to vote, must have resided in the
Philippines for at least one year and for at least six months on the place where he intends to vote immediately
preceding the elections. The “one year residency requirement” means “permanent residence” while the “six month
residency requirement” means either “permanent or temporary residence.” On the on hand, permanent residence or
domicile requires bodily presence in the locality, the intention to remain there (animus manendi), and an intention to
return to it if one goes somewhere else (animus revertendi). If a new residence is established, permanent residence
requires an intention not to return to the old domicile (animus non revertandi). For example, if a Filipino citizen
works abroad to look for greener pastures, but still has the “intention to return” to the Philippines, he can still
exercise his right to vote since his domicile is still in the Philippines. On the other hand, temporary residence only
requires the intention to reside in a fixed place. To be familiar with the needs of the locality, a voter must reside
therein for at least six months immediately preceding the elections. This is requirement for both national and local
elections. In here, since residence can also mean temporary residence, one can vote in either his locality of
permanent residence or locality of temporary residence during local or national elections. For example, Pedro is
domiciled in Tuguegarao City and is a registered voter therein. But he is working in Manila for more than six
months already, has established a temporary residence, and is likewise a registered voter there. Under the law, he
can vote in Tuguegarao city since he is a permanent resident of the place or in Manila since he has a temporary
residence there.

4. No Additional Substantive Requirement. Still in keeping with the trend for broadening electoral base, the
Constitution does not provide for “literacy, property or other substantive requirements.” Rather it encourages the
“participation” and “equalization” of the privileges and rights of the people. Being democratic and republican, the
State endeavors for the establishment of a wide base of electoral involvement by the people, not only by the rich
minority who joy the privilege of formal education, but also by the poor majority who are usually unlettered because
of poverty. It must also be emphasize that there is no direct relationship between education or property, on the one
hand, and capacity for intelligent voting, on the other, in that even a rich and highly educated person may initiate
and be swayed by sham elections.

Absentee Voting
Because of the phenomenon of “Filipino labor explosion overseas,” the so-called “absentee voting system” is
mandated by the Constitution to be provided for, or legislated, by the Congress. Section 2, Article V states, “The
Congress shall provide… a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.” For as long as they are
qualified, overseas Filipino workers can still participate in elections despite their temporary absence in the
Philippines. While residency is a voting requirement, it must not be a reason for disenfranchising thousands of
Filipinos abroad whose hearts are still with the Philippines.

Importance of Suffrage
As a final note, the importance of suffrage cannot be overemphasized as it is the bed rock of Philippine democracy
and republicanism. Removed, then the Philippines is no longer democratic and republican. This is why the
Constitution mandates the Congress “to provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot.” The
mandate becomes especially important now that the electoral base is broadened to include the illiterate and the
disabled who are the usual prey of unscrupulous politicians. Thus, to secure the very essence of Philippine
democracy and to protect the illiterates and disabled from being disenfranchised, the Constitution also provides that
“The Congress shall also design a procedure for the disabled and the illiterates to vote without the assistance of other
persons. Until then, they shall be allowed to vote under existing laws and such rules as the Commission on Elections
may promulgate to protect the secrecy of the ballot.”