By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
If there is one thing that keeps overseas Filipino workers (OFWs )from going through the hassles of overseas absentee voting, Migrante International said, it is because the ghost of Garci is still haunting the Filipino people.
“How sure are they that their votes would be counted?” Migrante chairperson Garry Martinez said, “The ghost of Garci is still here, haunting us.”
Garci is the moniker for former Commission on Elections (Comelec) Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano whose telephone conversation with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was recorded during the 2004 elections. In the said conversation, Arroyo was asking Garcillano to ensure that she wins by one million votes against Fernando Poe Jr. who was her rival for the presidency. Dubbed as the “Hello Garci scandal,” this almost caused the downfall of the Arroyo administration in 2005.
Martinez said their chapters abroad reported that most OFWs were discouraged to vote for fear that the election results would merely be manipulated even if it was automated.
Higher than 2007 But Still Low
This fear, according to Martinez, has resulted to a very low turn-out in the overseas absentee voting. With over 568,733 land-based registered voters and 21,097 seafarers, only 24 percent or 153,300 voted as of May 10, 7:00 p.m.
While this is higher than the 16 percent turnout during the 2007 elections, it is still considered low compared to the 2004 elections where there was a 65 percent turnout in the overseas absentee voting.
Migrante Middle East coordinator John Monterona said that no single post had reached a 50 percent turnout this election.
Some OFWs were not able to vote also because of unresolved problems that have been recurring for the past three elections since the overseas absentee voting began. This was virtually admitted by Commission on Elections commissioner Jamez Jimenez in a previous interview with Bulatlat.
“The primary weakness of the overseas absentee voting is its inconvenience to the voters,” Jimenez said, “This is true for Europe where you have to cross another country just to find a Philippine embassy.”
As for the Middle East, Monterona reported that 40 percent of the OFW population there are scattered in provinces that are far from the four polling precincts. Thus, voting would not only entail a lot of expenses for the OFWs, it would also mean too much time off their work. This was affirmed by Board of Elections Inspector Taja Guinomlan in an interview. She said some employers do not permit migrant workers to leave their jobs.
Martinez said the same is true for domestic helpers in Hongkong and Singapore who are not even entitled to day-off. Added to this, Filipino women in the Middle East cannot go out alone to vote. “I do not even think that Philippine consulates and embassies made an effort to convince employers to let their employees vote,” he said.
As for seafarers, Martinez belied the government’s assertion that that they could easily vote in the nearest precincts where their ships dock. Ports in other countries, said Martinez, are far from cities where most Philippine embassies or consulates are located.
No Clear Instructions
Among all the countries that held overseas absentee voting, elections in Hongkong and Singapore generated much of the media’s attention mainly because the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines were first used there. However, far from being excited, OFWs in these countries felt anxiety and fear because there were no clear instructions regarding the automated voting procedures.
The Migrante Hongkong chapter tried to reach out to the voters and informed them about the location of their respective precincts. However, the Comelec changed the precinct assignments a few days before the elections, putting all these efforts in vain.
The United Filipinos in Hongkong reported that there were about 140 OFWs who could not find their names on the list during the first day of the voting.
Martinez said the automated elections there did not encounter many technical glitches, except for two PCOS machines that “seemingly had difficulties adjusting to the weather.” There were also cases of ballots being rejected by the machines because it expanded due to the cold weather.
Not a Priority
Martinez said the Comelec did not pay much attention to overseas absentee voting.
Martinez also said that for absentee voting to work, sufficient budget should be allotted to facilitate the voting process for OFWs. For example, Martinez said, election registration roving teams and mobile precincts should be deployed in areas where there are many Filipinos such as in the big industrial park in the Middle East.
“Nevertheless, we are hoping that the incoming Noynoy Aquino administration would seriously attend to the issues and concerns of Filipino migrant workers as many continue to suffer under deplorable working conditions,” Monterona said. (Bulatlat.com)