Migrant groups intensify promotion of Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) registration

It has been six months since the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) registration for the upcoming May 13, 2012 mid-term elections in the Philippines began last November 2011. Reports from Migrante Canada, however, state that the number of applicants to date is way too far from the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) target of one million registered absentee voters for next year’s polls. The Comelec reported that as of March 21, 2012, they received 34,603 OAV applications, a meager 3.5 percent of the target.

“This is not surprising. There is absolutely an urgent need for the Comelec to intensify its information campaign regarding OAV registration,” said Jonathan Canchela, national coordinator of Migrante Sectoral Partylist (MSP) in Canada.

“OAV registration should be well-publicized, widespread and accessible so that qualified Filipinos abroad could exercise their right to vote. But how come the COMELEC seems too complacent – as if noynoying — in doing its job mandated by law?” he said.

Section 20 of the Overseas Absentee Voting Act (RA 9189) states that the “Commission, in coordination with agencies concerned, shall undertake an information campaign to educate the public on the manner of absentee voting for qualified overseas absentee voters.”

In 2010 elections, over half a million Filipinos registered for absentee voting, but only 153,323 actually voted. In Canada, one of the top locations with the most number of Filipinos, the turnout was quite low. Out of 15,777 registered absentee voters, only 3,422 actually voted, that is a 21.7 percent turn-out.

“This reflects the whole problem of the lack of access to consular services for Filipino immigrants and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) around the world,” said Migrante Canada secretary general Christopher Sorio.

“It is in this light that Migrante Canada has launched a petition urging the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa to provide accessible and affordable consular services across Canada,” he said.”In Canada, consular services including OAV registration are only offered at the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa, Philippine Consulates in Toronto and Vancouver. So other kababayans in the areas with high Filipino concentration such as Winnipeg will have to travel far to get their passports renewed or get registered for OAV.”

Canchela said Migrante Party-list understands that the Embassy and the Consulates sometimes conduct “consular outreach programs” in other areas under their jurisdiction. Given this, he said, Philippine officials in the various diplomatic posts including Canada should hold outreach programs on a regular basis and widely disseminate the information to the Filipino community.

“We recognize the fact that embassies and consular posts are operating with insufficient budget due to cost-cutting measures of the Aquino administration,” Canchela said. “But do Filipino immigrants and OFWs have to really endure the hardship of availing consular services because of the so-called “rationalization” program of the government? Furthermore, we believe that the planned closure of seven (7) Philippine embassies and three (3) consulates at the end of this year will further disenfranchise more overseas Filipinos in places like Palau, Venezuela, Barcelona, Frankfurt, among others.”

Text by Ina Alleco Silverio
Photos courtesy of Migrante party-List

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