KASAMA Vol. 18 No. 2 / April-May-June 2004 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network
The OAV Law: Defend and Amend,
Guarantee Its Continued
by Ellene A. Sana
Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines (CMA-Phils)
The May 2004 national elections are over.
There were winners. There were losers. There was
violence, vote buying. There were allegations of mass
fraud putting at risk the credibility of the election
results. There was violence. Philippine politics and
elections anyway have always been one for the record
with its usual ingredients of guns, goons, and gold. So
what else is new? There is one - the first time
implementation of Republic Act 9189 or the Overseas
Absentee Voting Act of 2003.
The OAV was the fresh and perhaps one of the few
inspiring ingredients in the May 2004 polls. After more
than 16 years of lobbying the Philippine Congress to
fulfil the mandate of the 1987 Philippine Constitution,
the OAV was passed on 13 February 2003 and for the first
time, qualified overseas Filipino voters went out to the
'polling places' abroad to cast their votes. For those
in Japan, Canada and United Kingdom where voting was by
mail, qualified overseas Filipino registered voters were
sent their ballots to the addresses they indicated in
their registration forms.
OAV 'LOW TURN OUT'
Overall voter turn out was 65.31% from the more than
358,000 approved registered voters abroad. In Saudi
Arabia, voter turn out are as follows: Riyadh - 52.52%;
Al Khobar - 76.72%; Jeddah - 63.70%. In Hongkong it was
65%. In other places it was a high 98%.
This early at least two members of the House of
Representatives already expressed disappointment on the
low turn out and proposed the immediate review of the
law with the end in view of scrapping it altogether.
They felt that the 'dismal result' did not do justice to
the enormous amount of human and material resources
spent for the exercise.
Indeed, if the number of those who actually voted will
be juxtaposed with the stock estimates of Filipinos
overseas placed at more than 7 million and increasing,
then one would be quick to give the OAV a failing mark.
But why the low turn out? There are a thousand and one
answers to this question. One thing sure though, apathy
did not top the list of reasons for the low turn out.
THE OAV - AN INITIAL ASSESSMENT
As Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs OAV
Secretariat wrap up and assess the OAV, we deem it
fitting to share an initial assessment of our own based
on initial feedbacks from OAV partners and advocates:
- Personal appearance for voting: The requirement for
personal appearance for voting except in Canada, United
Kingdom and Japan where voting was done by mail was a
determining factor in the exercise of suffrage by
overseas Filipinos. This plus a compound of other issues
are more than enough to discourage an otherwise
determined good citizen of the Philippines to exercise
his/her right of suffrage.
- Limited Number and/or Inaccessibility of Voting
Centers: While flexibility was exercised to the hilt
during the registration period with some 4
- posts being
allowed to conduct field registration in some 15
where there are big concentrations of Filipinos, during
the voting, this was not to be so. Hence those who
registered in the field registration had to travel to
the post in order to cast their ballots. Security
concerns following the spate of bombings in Riyadh were
partly to blame for the low turn out in Riyadh during
the tail end of the voting period.
- Itinerant migrants: In the case of postal voting,
initial reports indicated that a significant number of
ballots sent was either not received by the addressee or
the addressee had moved residence and could not be
located anymore. There were also seafarers who failed to
vote because they found themselves stuck in a port in
New York when they were supposed to sail to Rotterdam
and cast their ballots there. Many undocumented migrants
also failed to register and vote because they could not
provide a more permanent address because of the nature
of their status in the host countries.
- Voter's IDs: Confusion in the voters' IDs was a big
turn off to the voters. It was obvious that overseas
Filipinos give premium to identification cards issued by
the Philippine government. Failure of Comelec to
generate all the OAV IDs and with accurate information
therein also took its toll on the voters.
- Missing, misspelled names in the Certified List of OAV:
Reports from advocates in the field indicated problems
with missing and misspelled names in the CLOAV.
Comelec's slow response to these problems was enough to
douse with cold water the voter's interest.
- Serious Flaw in Information Dissemination: Despite
efforts by advocates and the communities to disseminate
information about the OAV and the candidates, another
major reason for the lackluster enthusiasm among OAV
voters was the gross lack of information about the OVA
processes, requirements and also about the candidates
and the positions to be voted upon. This was most
evident in the case of the party-list candidates where
only a very small percentage of voters filled out the
blank for the party-list position. The voters' ignorance
was basic. They did not know what the party-list system
was all about.
- Manual Counting and Canvass: This was the ultimate
nightmare for many who volunteered as SBEIs (Special
Board of Election Inspectors) and SBOCs (Special Board
of Canvassers) as they found themselves virtually locked
up in the voting precincts until the last ballot had
been counted and tallied. Many suffered exhaustion to
Suffrage is a basic right enjoyed by the citizens of a
country where democratic institutions and traditions are
observed such as in the Philippines. The
disenfranchisement of some 10% of the Filipino
population because they become members of the global
Filipino diaspora is no excuse for the denial of
suffrage. Neither is the perceived high cost of the
exercise be the deciding factor for its continued
The OAV law was finally passed after 16 long years of
lobby work in Congress in order to address the injustice
done unto the overseas Filipinos. The OAV law gives back
the right of suffrage to overseas Filipinos. It is
incumbent upon Congress to preserve and defend this
right and to ensure that it is not taken away again and
that its continued implementation is guaranteed.
LINING UP TO VOTE