By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – A Filipino migrant group expressed indignation over reports of irregularities and problems encountered by overseas Filipino workers in the overseas absentee voting that kicked off last April 13.
Migrante International called the Commission of Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) negligent of their duty over several reports such as delayed arrival of the absentee voting ballots, vote counting machines (VCMs) rejecting ballots and problem with the ballot’s barcode among others, which have reached their chapters abroad.
There are 1.8 million registered Filipino overseas absentee voters who want to exercise their democratic right to vote, said Migrante. They fear that such problems in the overseas absentee voting would deny them of this right.
“Comelec failed to ensure that overseas absentee voters receive all the necessary information and materials to prepare them for the elections even prior to April 13, the first day overseas absentee voters could officially vote,” Migrante said in a statement.
Delayed delivery of ballots
The most common report that reached Migrante is the delay in the delivery of ballots as Comelec did not fund the postage. According to a report, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said there is a 2016 “agreement directing consulates and embassies to pay the postage cost for the ballots and the DFA will reimburse thereafter.”
Voters abroad could cast their votes in their homes or workplaces by mailing the ballots directly to them. The voters then send their ballots to their respective voting posts to be counted manually or via automated election system by Comelec-designated officials.
In New Zealand, Migrante Aotearoa chairman Mikee Santos criticized Comelec for the delay in releasing the budget for postage.
29 April 2019#ComelecPalpak: Filipinos in New Zealand Dismayed Over Delayed Delivery of Ballots, Leading to Massive…
“With only two weeks to go, Comelec’s budget release for postage fees is way too late. Why only now? Comelec’s failure to guarantee earlier delivery of ballots with pre-paid envelopes will surely mean massive voters disenfranchisement again,” said Santos in a statement.
He said Comelec reportedly transferred P55 million ($1.06 million) on April 27 and approved an additional P14 million ($269,729) for payment of postage fees to ensure the delivery of the ballots.
Santos called the last minute release of the budget as “major blunder of Comelec.”
“It exposes how the current government continues to neglect Filipinos abroad. The Philippine economy relies on the billions of dollars of OFW remittances, and yet they always take us for granted. It’s a big, direct punch in the faces of all overseas Filipinos who were hoping to vote, but many will likely be unable to do so due to long delay of sending the ballots with pre-paid envelopes. This is an unforgivable, gross neglect not only of our rights, but the integrity of our election,” Santos said.
Meanwhile in Washington, a report said that ballots were sent out only beginning April 22 or nine days after the voting period started. https://news.abs-cbn.com/overseas/04/27/19/delay-in-oav-ballots-worries-fil-am-voters
Migrante International said this delay is a grave concern.
“The option to vote by mail is critical to thousands of overseas absentee voters who lack access to resources and time to travel to their nearest consulates or voting centers because of the distance from their workplace or home,” the group said.
They added that this is a clear violation of Republic Act 9189, which guarantees that overseas absentee voters will not have to shoulder any costs related to the process of voting.
“Comelec’s admission of lack of financial resources to pay for postage stamps due to the delay in the passage of the national budget is unacceptable, further revealing that protecting the constitutional right of all Philippine citizens to vote is not a priority of this administration,” the group said.
Ballots rejected, vote counting machines breakdown
There were also reports of ballots being rejected in five precincts in Hong Kong, according to Kontra Daya. There were also four incidences of VCM breakdowns and inconsistencies between the receipts printed by the VCM and actual votes cast by voters in three precincts.
There were also reports of initial unavailability of the computerized list of voters in Al-Khobar, a VCM with a broken seal in Jeddah, insufficient ballots in Russia, double ballots in Italy, and more than 3,000 voters disenfranchised in Damascus, Tripoli and Baghdad due to the absence of polling centers for Filipino OFWs.
Migrante-Bologna also reported that an OFW got two ballots bearing the same serial number.
The Computer Professionals’ Union (CPU) has pointed out that “countermeasures should have been in place at the get-go to ensure that VCMs don’t malfunction and break down, ballots are in order, and polling precincts are prepared.”
Mac Yanto, CPU deputy coordinator and convener of Kontra Daya said that Comelec has not significantly improved since the first automated election in 2010. He said this is the fourth automated elections held in the country, yet, the same problems were still encountered up to now.
“It’s not like we’re doing this for the first time. By now there should be more stringent systems and counter-measures in place to ensure smooth, transparent, peaceful, and accurate elections,” he said.
‘Voting is not a privilege’
Santos said that “voting is not a privilege but a fundamental right of every Filipino.”