KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 2 / April-May-June 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
Political Empowerment of Overseas Filipinos Through the Ballot
by Ellene A. Sana, Officer-in-charge, Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines (CMA-Phils)*
ON FEBRUARY 13, 2003, PHILIPPINE PRESIDENT GLORIA MACAPAGAL-ARROYO SIGNED INTO LAW REPUBLIC ACT 9189 (RA9189) OTHERWISE KNOWN AS THE OVERSEAS ABSENTEE VOTING ACT OF 2003. IT WAS THE CULMINATION OF MORE THAN 15 YEARS OF LOBBYING PHILIPPINE CONGRESS TO ENABLE THE MORE THAN 7 MILLION FILIPINOS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE POLITICAL PROCESSES IN THE PHILIPPINES THROUGH THE BALLOT. PREPARATIONS ARE NOW UNDERWAY FOR ITS INITIAL IMPLEMENTATION IN THE MAY 10, 2004 NATIONAL ELECTIONS.
THE SALIENT PROVISIONS OF THE OVERSEAS ABSENTEE VOTING (OAV) LAW INCLUDE:
SCOPE and COVERAGE:
PROCEDURE FOR REGISTRATION:
THE PERIOD FOR REGISTRATION IS AUGUST 01 TO SEPTEMBER 30, 2003.
PROCEDURE FOR CERTIFICATION:
APPLICATION TO VOTE IN ABSENTIA:
COUNTING AND CANVASS OF OAV VOTES
Counting and canvass of OAV votes will be done at the embassies and consulates. The start of counting will be synchronized with the start of counting in the Philippines after the closing of polls at 3:00 p.m. Manila time on May 10, 2004.
REGULATION ON CAMPAIGNING ABROAD
There is no prohibition from personal campaigning abroad. The use of campaign materials, as well as the limits on campaign spending shall be governed by the laws and regulations applicable in the Philippines.
RA9189: AN ENABLING OAV LAW?
The salient provisions of the OAV law clearly show the strict limitations and
restrictions on the exercise of suffrage of overseas Filipinos. The
requirement for personal appearance at the embassies/consulates for
registration/certification and application to vote in absentia and later for
voting drastically eliminates a large number of potential voters overseas.
While having to appear personally to register and again to vote may preserve the sanctity and integrity of the ballot, it falls short in its objective as an enabling law for the maximum exercise of suffrage of overseas Filipinos. For one, it becomes problematic for those with limited mobility and resources (in the case of domestic workers for instance) to appear personally before the embassy for the registration and the casting of ballots.
The limited number of embassies and consulates to be used as voting precincts is another major concern.
On the part of government, it will probably be more expensive than doing it by mail which is the practice of many countries that allow absentee voting for their citizens overseas.
The set up likewise calls for serious bilateral negotiations with host countries not only for their approval but for other needed assistance and cooperation to allow the sovereign exercise to take place in their respective jurisdiction. There are countries particularly in the Middle East that limit the engagement of foreign nationals in activities that can be perceived as political and/or religious, especially if held in public venues.
As per the estimate of the OAV secretariat of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the number of overseas Filipinos is placed at 5.52 million from the original estimate of 7.41 million when those below 18 years old and those who have been naturalized are excluded. In terms of potential voters, the figure could be further reduced to a mere 2.76 million primarily because of the impediment of personal attendance for registration and voting.
THE POLITICAL EMPOWERMENT OF OVERSEAS FILIPINOS
Notwithstanding these limitations and weaknesses of the OAV law, its passage is still hailed as a significant step towards the political empowerment of overseas Filipinos. Hopefully, amendments can be introduced and lobbied for in the coming 13th Congress of the Philippines, unless there will be significant changes in the political structure of the country. Another step could be the election to office of national leaders who will not forget that there is an increasing number of constituent Filipinos abroad who are as equally deserving of recognition and respect as the rest of the citizenry inside the country. Further steps could take the form of an overseas Filipinos' body polity that advances the agenda for good governance, a responsible and mature electorate and overall political and electoral reforms.
*CMA-Phils is a migrant non-government organization that upholds the rights of
all Filipino migrants and their families while helping improve their economic,
social and political condition through policy advocacy, information,
networking, capability-building and assistance facilitation.
For more information Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
TO CAST YOUR VOTE FROM AUSTRALIA YOU'LL NEED TO TRAVEL TO SYDNEY OR CANBERRA, TWICE
Only the Philippine Embassy in Canberra and the Consulate in Sydney are designated to be official voting precincts in Australia for the May 2004 Philippine elections.
Note: Consular and diplomatic services rendered in connection with overseas voting processes shall be free/gratis.
Comelec shall issue overseas absentee voters identification cards to those whose applications to vote have been approved.
Watchers: Each candidate, political party, and parties, associations or organizations participating in the party-list system of elections, accredited citizens' arms and accredited OFW organizations shall be entitled to one (1) watcher during the voting and counting of votes.
(Information from Akbayan! Citizens Action Party)
Akbayan! has published a Primer on the Absentee Vote, The Overseas Pinay and Pinoy and Absentee Voting. Overseas Filipinos have long been a sector of
concern for Akbayan.
E-mail contact: email@example.com
Comelec: The text of RA 9189, notice of registration and election, application
forms and the Comelec primer on RA 9189 are available online at the Philippine
Commission on Elections official web page Announcement re: Overseas Absentee
Voting Act at www.comelec.gov.ph/announce/announce_ra9189.html
Voting Precincts in Australia:
Embassy of the Philippines, 1 Moonah Place, Yarralumla ACT 2600 - Phone: (61-2) 6273 2535
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Philippine Consulate General, Level 1, 27-33 Wentworth Avenue, Sydney 2000 - Phone: (61 2) 9262- 7377
Embassy web site http://www.philembassy.au.com/
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