KASAMA Vol. 15 No. 3 / July-August-September 2001 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

Convened by: Platform of Filipino Migrant Organizations in Europe, EMPOWER, eLagda, and KAKAMMPI

PRESS RELEASE August 24, 2001

After three days of lobby work for the passage of an overseas voting law, a delegation of Overseas Filipinos and their local allies close their delegation visit with a strong sense of achievement and optimism.

The advocacy visit started on Monday, 20 August, in which more than 50 delegates representing hundreds of Filipino organizations from around the world were joined in a mass and had a breakfast meeting with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and DOLE Secretary Patricia Santo Tomas. The meeting affirmed the president's support for the political enfranchisement of overseas Filipinos and sent a clear signal to members of Congress that the Executive is on the side of Overseas Filipinos on the issue of overseas voting.

The delegation then paid a courtesy call to the COMELEC (Commission on Elections). During the meeting the delegates, Chair Alfredo Benipayo, and Commissioners Borra and Tuazon agreed to open lines of communication to share ideas and information in order to come up with the most efficient ways to implement an overseas voting law.

On Tuesday, 21 August, the delegation organized a public forum participated by local NGOs and members of the media. The event gave the delegation an opportunity to link specific issues to their lack of political power. Because they cannot vote and have no political clout, many of their needs are not heeded by government, thus the urgency to pass an overseas voting law.

The most significant day of the delegation's legislative lobby occurred on August 22, when the delegation visited both chambers of Congress. Welcomed by Senate President Drilon, Senators Biazon, Flavier, Pimentel, Osmena (John), Legarda, Jaworski, Osmena (Serge), Angara, and Pangilinan, the delegates were assured of the senators' support. To ensure the integrity of the overseas ballot, the senators directly appealed to the delegates to become active participants in the formulation as well as the implementation of the law.

In the afternoon of Wednesday, the delegates proceeded to meet with members of the Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, and the Committee on Foreign Affairs. In an unexpected development, the Committees almost passed a motion to adopt the consolidated House bill from the 11TH Congress for a plenary debate. At the behest of Representative Macarambon, members of the Committees later decided to allow several new members of the two Committees to study the bill before calling for a vote the following week. Speaker Joe de Venecia, in a brief visit, also expressed his sense of urgency about the issue by committing to help pass an overseas voting bill within the year.

Aside from the voting rights issue, the delegation also brought up other concerns in a meeting with the DFA (Department of Foreign Affairs), CFO (Commission on Filipinos Overseas), DOLE (Department of Labor and Employment), OWWA (Overseas Workers Welfare Administration), and the POEA (Philippine Overseas Employment Administration). Foremost among these is the fight against the continued trafficking in persons, especially women and children. The delegation also wants the government to provide continuing education about the rights of workers and the possible problems that they may encounter when they go to another country. They also want the government to revise RA8042, also known as the Magna Carta for Migrant Workers, to make it more responsive to OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers) needs, and to reorient Philippine foreign missions to respond to, and effectively serve, the needs of Filipino migrants (and that foreign service personnel should respect domestic work as being "proper" work). And lastly, they reiterated their long-standing lobby for the Philippines to negotiate bilateral labor agreements with host countries, in order to protect the rights of Filipino migrants.

The organizers of the advocacy tour hope that the Absentee Voting bill will indeed be passed during the first session of this Congress, or even before the end of 2001. It is high time that this "marginalized sector" of Philippine society be allowed to join the Philippine political process. If this happens, maybe they could then proudly refer to themselves as "OFVs" (Overseas Filipino Voters).

Contact: Ellene A. Sana, Advocacy Officer
Kakammpi, 70-B Matahimik St, Teacher's Village,
Diliman, Quezon City 1101, Philippines
Ph: +632 4354584 Ph/Fax: +632 9215810
Platform of Filipino Migrant Organizations in Europe
Paulus Potterstraat 20,
1071 DA Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Tel: 31-20-6646927 Fax: 31-20-6647093

For more information visit the websites above and see also "Kasama" Vol. 14 No. 3 July/Sept 2000 Platform of Filipino Migrant Organizations in Europe, and "Kasama" Vol. 15 No. 1 Jan/March 2001 Enfranchising Overseas Filipinos: A Call to Action.