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KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 1 / January-February-March 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

A Call to Action

Politically disenfranchised as soon as they left Philippine soil, overseas Filipino workers and expats who have chosen to keep their Filipino citizenship know how it feels to be political eunuchs. While some 40 countries allow their citizens anywhere in the world to vote, Filipinos abroad remain unable to cast the ballot.


Email: phil_update@yahoo.com

Sent: Thursday, 22 February 2001 06:31

Why are we, the more than 7 million overseas Filipinos, determined to reclaim our right to vote?

Advocates are quick to point out that, crisis after crisis, we have become the lifeline thrown at the country's drowning economy. Every year we remit an estimated 7 billion dollars through the banking system. Every year we pump probably 7 billion dollars more by personally bringing in cash or through padala.

Indeed, we weathered the Asian economic storm better than our neighbors largely because of the direct economic benefits of decades of massive and, for many broken families, heartrending diaspora of our workers. Overseas Filipinos create a growing middle class and build a more stable Philippine economy by investing hard-earned savings in a variety of industries, including transportation, real estate, housing, construction, information technology, banking, insurance, education, aviation, and manufacturing. Our role as economic saviors or, according to the government, as "modern-day heroes" should be enough reason to entitle us to political rights as basic as suffrage.

But we are not asserting our right to vote only in the context of our economic value and as a matter of political quid pro quo. Beneath the simmer of our resentment is a raging desire to be recognized and treated as full-fledged Filipino citizens, not as an apolitical constituency easily made giddy by patronizing labels and by the welcome-home-modern-day-hero drama at NAIA. Many of us have never renounced our allegiance to the Philippine flag and have no intention of doing so. Modern technology (the Internet, cable and satellite TV, affordable telephone services—especially texting) has allowed us to follow national news not just as passive observers but as active participants. More than 50 percent of the approximately 3 million daily hits recorded by the leading news site in the Philippines are generated by Filipinos abroad. On numerous interactive sites, thousands of reader comments and reactions to events and issues are made by concerned Filipinos worldwide. Clearly, we have a large overseas Filipino community showing active interest in the country's welfare, making two of our major Manila-based online dailies — together with the likes of CNN.com and NYTimes.com — among the top-ranked newspaper sites in the world.

Is our physical absence sufficient reason to strip us of our Filipino citizenship? Certainly not with our remarkably strong connection to the homeland! But what is citizenship without the fundamental right to vote? Recognizing the grave injustice of disenfranchising Filipino citizens outside the country, the 1987 Philippine Constitution requires Congress to pass a law that will enable overseas Filipinos to cast their ballots. It has been 14 years since the Constitution enshrined that mandate, and still there is no such law! Related bills made it to the legislative mill, only to be smothered by parochial bickerings and outright indifference. Ultimately, the bills were left for dead in the cobwebbed archives of Congress. The last two reincarnations (HB 10720 and SB 1746) reached committee level, only to be killed in the cross fire of the recent political scandals.

The greatest social struggles in the history of mankind culminated in political milestones, often characterized by an end to disenfranchisement: the toppling of tyrants, the freeing of slaves, the granting of the right to vote. In the U.S., voting rights were first restricted to propertied white males. Ultimately, everyone—the poor, the Blacks, and women — became part of America's electoral process. Since World War II, the U.S. has also allowed overseas voting as a matter of fundamental right. About 40 other countries — including Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Switzerland, Australia, Italy, Spain, India, Venezuela, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, South Africa, Senegal, Bosnia, Croatia, Armenia, Japan, Thailand, and Indonesia — treat their people abroad as full-fledged voting citizens. The Philippines, regardless of our reputation as a uniquely dynamic democracy, is chugging along the voting rights path and has so far failed to catch up.

Will we, the more than 7-million-strong modern-day heroes, allow our calls for political enfranchisement to be ignored again and again? Absolutely not! Tokenism and the politics of hollow promises are guaranteed to unite us in a tight knot of anti-establishment anger. We do what we can to help the still fragile Philippine economy. We never stopped caring about our people.

If the Filipino diaspora has been a centrifugal force that has hemorrhaged our pool of talents, we want to be part of a reversal. Marry modern communications technology with the political inclusion of the many capable and hardworking Filipinos around the world, and we open a vast network of talents.

But there is something more fundamental than the practical consequences of our political enfranchisement. We, uprooted primarily by the merciless and indiscriminate force of economic necessity, and in many cases transplanted to the loneliest and most desolate corners of the globe, continue to cling to our proud claim to Filipino citizenship. We deserve to keep our fundamental rights and dignity as citizens. We deserve our inalienable right to vote!


EMPOWER — Global Coalition for the Political Empowerment of Overseas Filipinos

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