By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — An organization of overseas Filipino workers today expressed deep concern over plans of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to close down at least 12 Philippine posts abroad by the end of 2012 saying that it would only further disenfranchise overseas absentee voters.
Migrante Sectoral Party said the closure of Philippine embassies and posts abroad would definitely add another major obstacle for overseas Filipinos who wish to exercise their right to register and vote under the overseas absentee voting (OAV). The Philippines currently has 66 embassies, 23 consulates, and four diplomatic missions worldwide.
According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, president of Migrante Sectoral Party, since the OAV Law took effect, one of the perennial problems being faced by overseas Filipinos, from the registration to the voting process, is the inaccessibility of Philippine posts.
“Our PH posts serve as Comelec posts abroad, in charge of facilitating registration and voting for overseas absentee voters. As it is, our PH posts are not sufficient in number and some are already over-expanding in scope. Overseas Filipinos are scattered in at least 239 countries worldwide, and, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, OFW remittances amounted to US$1.8 billion last December pushing the 2011 remittance tally to a record-breaking $20.117 billion. Shouldn’t OFWs be given all the assistance and help they need and deserve in exchange for keeping the national economy afloat?” said Bragas-Regalado.
“It is even now safe to say that one of the main reasons for the low turnout of OAV registrants may be because Filipinos are finding it hard to access our PH posts. Now they want to make it harder for them. If the embassies are closed down, where will the OFWs register for the OAV?”she said.
The overseas absentee registration officially started last October 31, 2011 and will end on October 31, 2012. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it is aiming to register one million absentee voters.
According to reports of the Comelec, as of January 18, 2012, only 16,070 Filipinos have registered as absentee voters. Based on the data of the Comelec’s Committee on OAV (COAV), the highest number of registrants are found in the following international cities: Los Angeles (1,760); Riyadh (915); Tel Aviv (866); Milan (847); London (729); Dubai (725); Hong Kong (637); San Francisco (627); Macau (613); and Singapore (517).
The Comelec said there were only 347,453 absentee voters during the 2010 national and local polls.
Bragas-Regalado also said that while the plan to close down PH posts by end of 2012 is mainly for “austerity measures,” the Philippine government appears to be applying the same scheme to overseas absentee voting.
“For 2012, the government did not allot a single additional centavo for the implementation of the OAV,” Bragas-Regalado said. For fiscal year 2012, the budget for OAV remained at P43.4 million ($1 million), same as the year before.
“2012 is a crucial year for OAV registration for the upcoming 2013 elections. How can the government reach its one million target (of OAV registrants) with this meager budget? What will it cover? Is it enough for voter-education and additional personnel for a massive registration drive?”
The group of Comelec employees called Wage Fight! Alliance said the Aquino administration’s slashed funds include P164 million ($3.8 million) in personnel savings that the DBM wants impounded and P51.5 million ($1.1 million) funds for Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) that was transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
Migrante Sectoral Party announced that it is set to launch voter-education programs and registration campaigns in Filipino communities worldwide.
Encourage OFWs to vote
In the meantime, the Comelec also recently announced the designation of Comelec Commissioner Lucenito N. Tagle as the new Chairman of the poll body’s COAV. He took over Commissioner Armando C. Velasco who chaired the committee since August 11, 2009.
The Comelec has already set May 31, 2012 as the deadline for the filing of Manifestation of Intent to participate in the Party-List System of Representation. Party-list groups desiring to participate in the May 13, 2013 national and local elections should file with the Comelec a Manifestation of Intent to participate in the party-list election together with its list of at least five (5) nominees, no later than May 31, 2012, at the close of business hours.
“This Commission is in the process of reviewing and collating all existing rules and regulations governing the party-list system of representation to ensure that the party-list system truly serves its purpose, as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution and of R.A. 7941, that is giving representation to marginalized and underrepresented sectors,” said COMELEC in Resolution 9359, promulgated February 8, 2012.
In the House of Representatives, there are already moves to amend the OAV law to encourage more Filipinos to vote.
The Committees on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms and on Foreign Affairs are jointly pushing for the removal of a provision in the OAV law stating that Filipinos residing in various countries cannot vote unless they sign an affidavit that declares their intention to resume residency in the Philippines within three years’ time.
According to reports from the United States Pinoy for Good Governance, because the law sanctions violators of the said provision, many Filipinos did not vote in the 2010 elections. In the US, only 100,000 out of four million Filipinos in the United States participated in the 2010 polls.