Comelec targets 1 million overseas voters

Special Report

Global Filipino Nation reported that the Philippine Commission on Elections is targetting at least one million registered overseas voters by October 31 next year.

The registration target, according to GFN, was disclosed in a Comelec forum held last October 5 with community leaders at the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco, California.

GFN also reported that during the forum, actions on how to attract more registrants had been brought forward and/or agreed including amendment of the Overseas Absentee Voting Law authorising Internet Voter Registration and Voting, and removal of the Affidavit to Return requirement.

In earlier news reports on this website, Comelec Commissioner Armando C. Velasco in a meeting with GFN convenors announced that ‘Comelec supports the goal of global Filipinos to deepen their participation’ in Philippine national election by initiating a “suffrage broadening program” which includes a range of initiatives to encourage more overseas absentee voters registration.

Below is the latest report of Global Filipino Nation:

The Commission on Elections aims to have at least one million registered overseas voters at the end of the current registration period slated to start on October 31, 2011 and end on October 31, 2012, reported Global Filipino Nation to this website via email.

Comelec disclosed this registration target in the first leg of its US voter registration push held on October 5, 2011 at the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco.

Consultative Forum

Commissioners Lucenito N. Tagle and Christian Robert Lim met with community leaders together with Consul- General Marciano A. Paynor, Jr. Comelec officials, responding to feedback from the community, also announced initiatives that would address the issues surrounding registration and voting, in the hope that suffrage participation will be enhanced.

Among the organizations represented in the Forum were: Global Filipino Nation (GFN), Philippine-American Press Club (PAPC) and US Pinoys for Good Governance (USP4GG). GFN and PAPC officials included:

Barrios, Aida (GFN Convenor & PAPC Director/Treasurer)
Barrios, Victor S. (GFN Convenor)
Chavez, Ester (GFN Convenor & PAPC President)
Chavez, Mandy (PAPC member)
Ignacio, Johannes (GFN Convenor)
Villegas, Antonio Jr. (GFN Convenor & PAPC Director)

Representing USP4GG was Rodel Rodis, President.

Issues and Suggested Comelec Action

The Consul-General and Comelec highlighted the different factors that tended to impede a steady and significant flow of registrants. Comelec outlined its action program to redress the impeding factors.

Community leaders focused on three major impeding elements that account for the relatively low turnout for registration and voting: 1) the extraordinary burden posed by the requirement of physical presence at the nearest Consulate; 2) the intimidating effect of requiring registrants to sign the Affidavit to Return within 3 years from registration; and 3) interruptions in the Continuing Voter Registration process.

Requiring the physical presence in the nearest Consulate entails heavy demands on the voter in terms of time and money – which many cannot afford. For example: it was pointed out that the San Francisco Consulate General covers 10 states, including Alaska. It takes the whole day to complete door-to-door air travel, similar time for the return flight and additional time to drive to and from the Consulate. The time lost plus the wages or vacation leave foregone constitute an unreasonable or insurmountable burden. This hurdle is replicated in many other areas where the nearest Consulate is a great distance from many OFWs, especially in Saudi Arabia with a 1.8 million Filipino population unofficially estimated by recruitment agencies.

Comelec officials expressed complete support to provisions imbedded in bills to amend the Overseas Absentee Voting Law authorizing Internet Voter Registration and Voting. In addition to addressing burdens imposed by physical presence at Consulates, it was recognized that the IT solution would also address other operational problems in administering the OAV Law, such as changes in address of registrants.

The Forum participants, including the Comelec officials, echoed the intimidating effect of immigrant voter registrants posed by the Affidavit to Return. It was pointed out that legislators concerned are unanimous in their intent to eliminate the Affidavit requirement. Senate Bill 3565 and House Bill 2301 provide for the deletion of the Affidavit requirement.

The USP4GG officer brought out the possibility that Comelec could, without waiting for legislative action, declare the affidavit requirement unconstitutional on the basis of the principle of equal protection under the Constitution. It was reasoned out that if dual citizens may register and vote without having to sign the Affidavit, immigrants have similar rights.

Comelec officials suggested to the USP4GG officer that a suit be filed against Comelec challenging the constitutionality of the Affidavit provision. That action would trigger a subsequent Supreme Court definitive action.

The Forum also brought out the legal opinion of Alberto C. Agra, former Secretary of Justice and Counsel of Global Filipino Nation, to the effect that Filipino immigrants abroad comply with the affidavit to return by demonstrating their intent to do so in a variety of acts, activities and utterances (see attached legal opinion). These ways include: signing the affidavit itself; ownership or lease of property; business operations; paying any form of tax; regular remittances to families; being a registered voter; statements in various documents; and others.

It was requested that the Comelec En banc act on the pending request of GFN to allow the availability of copies of the Agra Opinion at the voter registration places to address the possible hesitancy of immigrants from filing voter registration papers. The availability of the Agra Opinion does not imply an endorsement by the Comelec. The Comelec Commissioners at the Forum indicated that they would take up the suggestion with the Comelec En Banc.

Finally, the Forum participants requested for ongoing, uninterrupted Voter Registration as a means for further enlarging the list of overseas voters – even far more than the current target of one million. It was argued that genuinely Continued Voter Registration involves uninterrupted voter registration with Philippine Consulates abroad. There could still be a cut-off for determining eligibility to vote for a given national election. Those who miss the deadline for the cut-off date will be eligible to vote in the subsequent elections.

Section 7 of R.A. 9189 provides for Continued Voter Registration to optimize the use of existing resources. While Sec. 13 stipulates that the Certified List of Overseas Absentee Voters be prepared 120 days prior to every election, nowhere in the law is there an indication that the registration process should stop. Consulates already have the staff, equipment and willingness to handle uninterrupted voter registration. They have staff complement who regularly handles dual citizenship applications.

The Comelec Commissioners conveyed to the Forum participants that they found the proposal for ongoing voter registration sensible. The GFN Convenors indicated that there is a pending request for this arrangement with the Comelec En Banc.

Global Filipino Nation is an international organization of global Filipino leaders and organizations committed to “Building the Global Filipino Nation for Good Governance”.

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About Romy Cayabyab

Romy Cayabyab is a Sydney-based web publisher and audit consultant, and founder of emanila group of websites.

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