The signing of the landmark bill in Malacanang was attended by its creators, including House Speaker Jose de Venecia and Representative Apolinario Lozada of the House Representatives. Senator Edgardo Angara, on the other hand, represented the Senate.
RA 9189 will allow overseas Filipinos the right to cast their votes in the 2004 national election. Their votes will be for the candidates running for president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives. The law set the voting age at 18.
The House of Representatives ratified on February 11 the Absentee Voting Bill. The bill was approved by a majority of the 146 congressmen who voted by voice during the late night session. The Senate ratified the much-delayed measure earlier on February 4.
The President earlier declared she would sign the law "24 hours" after Congress ratified the bill.
One billion pesos will be allocated this year for the preparations needed to implement the absentee voting law, according to Congressman Apolinario Lozada Jr., chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee. The Comelec [Commission on Elections] has asked for two billion pesos towards the implementation of RA 9189 for the 2004 elections.
Meanwhile, a taxpayer's suit was filed before the Supreme Court on February 17 seeking to declare null and void some provisions of the absentee voting law, particularly the provision allowing Filipino immigrants and green-card holders to participate in the 2004 elections.
Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal said some of the provisions in the newly enacted Absentee Voting Law violate the 1987 Constitution and can lead to a lot of problems during and after the national elections in May 2004.
In a 16-page petition, Macalintal asked the SC to stop the Comelec from implementing the voters' registration of Filipino immigrants and permanent residents in other countries. He was echoing Sen. Joker Arroyo's previous objection to the law.
In his petition, Macalintal also sought to void the portion of RA 9189 giving Comelec the power to order the proclamation of winning candidates. This provision, he said "encroaches upon the power of Congress to canvass votes for the president, vice president" and the power to proclaim winners for these positions.
Macalintal added that the provision in RA 9189 allowing the Congressional Oversight Committee to "review, revise amend and approve" the implementing rules and regulations the Comelec would promulgate for absentee voting is void. This is "an act of intrusion" into the Comelec's independence. He added that it is only the Supreme Court that has the power to review the rules on absentee voting crafted by the Comelec.
Earlier, two framers of the Constitution, Fr. Joaquin Bernas and Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople have asserted that the enfranchisement of immigrants is constitutional. (From Internet Inquirer and Philippine Star 11, 12, 13, 18 February 2003)
This article is reprinted from Parola, No. 116, November 2002 - February 2003. Parola is the newsletter of the the Philippine Seafarers Assistance Programme.