KASAMA Vol. 18 No. 2 / April-May-June 2004 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

The OAV Law: Defend and Amend,
Guarantee Its Continued Exercise

by Ellene A. Sana
Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines (CMA-Phils)

June 2004: 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.


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.


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:

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 implementation.

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.