Editor’s Note: In part 2 of our 2-part Special Report, Balitang America takes an in-depth look at why many Filipinos living in the US are discouraged from participating in overseas absentee voting. Part 1 can be found here.
REDWOOD CITY, Calif. - Availing of the right to participate in Philippine elections for overseas Filipinos comes with a price.
Filipino citizens who are abroad are required to issue an affidavit, declaring an intent to return to the Philippines once they register as overseas absentee voters. They need to resume residency in their homeland within three years after registration.
If they fail to do so and yet vote in the next election, they will face at least a year in prison back in their homeland and they will be banned from voting.
The question is, will Filipino-Americans pay the ultimate price of giving up on their American Dream just to vote in Philippine elections?
It's been 12 years since Jacqui Conclara moved to the U.S. to be with her husband and raise a family. She is a permanent US resident but she still considers the Philippines her home and was ecstatic when she became an overseas absentee voter in 2010.
"Just knowing that I will be voting for a president, even though I'm here, just got me excited. I want to do it, no matter the cost," she said.
What it cost Conclara was to issue an affidavit that she would resume residency in the Philipipnes, within three years of registering as an overseas absentee voter.
"I had that intent to return, three years down the road. But life changes. Life here takes over," she said.
Despite failing to fulfill this overseas absentee voting requirement, Conclara decided to once again cast her vote in this year's midterm election in the Philippines.
Philippine law requires a voter to be a resident of the Philippines for at least a year and in the place where he/she intends to vote for at least six months before the election.
In the case of overseas absentee voters, the residency requirement must be fulfilled after registration --- not before it.
But for Rodel Rodis, president of the U.S. Pinoys for Good Governance, this provision is only applicable for Filipinos with temporary, contractual jobs abroad and not for U.S.-based Filipinos, many of whom have become permanent residents here.
"Who in their right mind would register to vote, only to risk being jailed? If you've waited 20 years to become an immigrant to come to the U.S., are you then going to agree to return to the Philippines within three years, with your whole family, just because you have the right to vote?" Rodis said.
In fact, Rodis said this provision is the ultimate reason why many Filipino citizens abroad don't take part in Philippine elections.
San Francisco Consul General Marciano Paynor acknowledges this problem but points out that overseas Filipinos should still vote because no overseas Filipino has ever been prosecuted for failing to resume residency in the Philippines.
After much lobbying from overseas community leaders, Philippine lawmakers voted to remove this provision of the law last February. The amendment has yet to be signed by President Benigno Aquino III.
You may contact Henni Espinosa at [email protected] for more information.