Mission: Get overseas Pinoys to register and vote

Posted at 12/26/08 9:50 AM

Editor's note: This is the fourth in our series of year beginners.

First on the agenda for 2009, as far as advocates of absentee voting are concerned, will be the amendment to the overseas absentee voting bill.
The amendment will scrap the affidavit of intent to return which has been required of Filipino immigrants abroad.  This has also proven a deterrent to Filipinos overseas, particularly to green card holders in the US who fear that their residency will be affected by executing this affidavit.
This requirement was included in the law to keep the overseas Filipino "connected" to the Philippines.
Makati Rep. Teodoro "Teddy Boy" Locsin Jr., who heads the House suffrage committee, said on Philippine television he would do away with this requirement.
"I will remove the residency requirement and I will call it the Daphne amendment in honor of Daphne Kuok who twisted my arm," Locsin said on ANC primetime show "Talkback."
Kuok is one of the most prominent overseas Filipino leaders in Hong Kong. She was very visible during the campaign for the enactment of overseas absentee voting (Republic Act 9189) and currently in drawing up the amendments to this act.

Longer registration period

In addition, civil society groups are lobbying for a longer registration period for overseas absentee voters. They are protesting its drastic cut from ten to seven months.  From the original Dec. 1, 2008 to August 31, 2009, the registration period has been shortened from February 1 to August 31, 2009.
"I do not understand why the period for continuing registration of local voters is one year while that for overseas absentee voting is only seven months," Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), told abs-cbnNEWS.com.
John Leonard Monterona, Migrante-Middle East regional coordinator of Migrante International, said that shortening the duration of the OAV registration to seven months is unreasonable, unjust and unconstitutional.

Overseas Filipino workers, particularly in Saudi Arabia which has a large OFW population, stand to lose out because many are based in those parts of the country far from the registration centers at the embassy in Riyadh , the consulate in Jeddah, and the International Philippine School in Al Khobar.
Nevertheless, these groups and other overseas voting advocates abroad are hopeful that registration will be much better in 2009 than in the past.
Preparations for the 2009 registration began as early as April 2008, Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner in charge of overseas absentee voting Nicodemo Ferrer said. They held consultations with non-governmental organizations, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO).
Ferrer then proposed a "massive information dissemination campaign" for the 2010 elections. Filipinos overseas will be allowed to vote for the president, vice-president, senators and party-list representative.
His fellow commissioner, Rene Sarmiento said a lot of the former registrants will be removed from the voters’ lists because the ruling is if an overseas absentee voter fails to cast his ballot for two consecutive elections, he will have to re-enlist. Since the first registration in 2003, many OFWs have transferred residences and/or ended their contracts and have returned to the Philippines.
The Comelec reported that in 2003, total registrants amounted to 361,457 and another 142,665 registered in 2006. These were for the 2004 and 2007 elections respectively.
Sarmiento said that unfortunately, a large percentage of these will have to be delisted.

In 2009, the Comelec is expecting at least a million registrants.
Last August, the DFA and the Comelec inked a memorandum of agreement (MOA) in preparation for the registration of overseas absentee voters in 2009 and the elections in 2010.
DFA Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said they are targeting one million absentee voters to register for the coming elections. The Comelec officials visited consular posts abroad to train foreign affairs personnel on the process of registering overseas Filipinos.

Low turnout
The Department of Foreign Affairs' Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat (DFA-OAVS) said that registration in 2003 hit a mere 364,187, which was 37% of the projected 975,000 registrants.  This was miniscule compared to the estimated 6.9 million Filipinos overseas.  But then the OAVS said this figure included children of overseas Filipinos and others not qualified to vote.

The Center for Migrant Advocacy said in a report after the 2007 elections that registration the previous year merely crept up and this was mirrored in the low turnout of only 16% during the 2007 polls.  This was a disappointment after the turnout of 65% the year after the initial registration in 2003.

Rep. Locsin bewailed the fact that turnout for overseas absentee voting fell to almost 10 percent of registered voters in May 2007 from about 65 percent in May 2004.