MANILA -- Senate President Franklin Drilon on Sunday urged the Commission on Election (Comelec) to make Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) available online for overseas Filipinos in the 2016 national elections, as stipulated in the OAV Act of 2003.
“It is high time that the Comelec adopt all the necessary technologies that would empower the about 10 to 12 million overseas Filipinos to use the internet to register and vote in 2016 and onwards, without leaving their job sites or residences abroad,” stressed Drilon.
Drilon pointed out that OFW groups, as well as from Filipino immigrants, seafarers and Filipino students abroad qualified to vote, have complained of inaccessible OAV centers in Philippine embassies and consulates.
The distance they have to travel have discouraged many of them from participating in electing the country's leaders in the past.
“Overseas Filipinos risk their lives even in strife-torn countries like Libya now not only for their families, but also to prop up our economy with their over $20 billion in remittances each year. We should make it easier for them to vote and to participate in all democratic processes by utilizing the power of the internet. Technological advances should already be utilized to surmount all overseas voting challenges in the past. The bigger voice of overseas Filipinos must be heard now," he stressed.
Drilon said online absentee registration and voting is already practiced in about 20 countries, including the US, France, Germany, Italy and Australia.
"I see no reason anymore why it can't be done in the Philippines as well," said Drilon, who added that the security of online registration and voting can be addressed through the use of sophisticated data encryption and other available technologies.
The present modes of registration and voting under the OAV law (Republic Act 9189 as amended by RA 10590) – through mail or personal appearance at the Philippine embassies or consulates abroad – limit overseas voter registration and actual voting.
In fact, only 2.5 percent or a little over 200,000 of the estimated 10-12 million overseas Filipinos (including OFWs, dual citizens, seafarers, etc.) have cast their votes in past national elections.
While Filipinos overseas in countries like Hong Kong or Singapore have easy access to OAV centers, the same is not true for their counterparts in many countries in the Middle East and even in the US and Europe, where Philippine consulates and embassies may be located far away from many work sites or residences.
The Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) recommended “the use of new technologies such as, but not limited to, online voting and recent innovations in direct electronic recording equipment.”
“If we are to have online registration and voting in 2016, then we must already do the spadework now, starting with looking at the different technologies being utilized by countries where Internet voting is already practiced, and implement it right now in time for 2016," said Drilon.
According to Drilon, in France alone, more than 1.5 million absentee voters cast their votes through the Internet, which means it is doable.
Registration under the OAV has been low that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has issued Foreign Service Circular No. 16-2014 instructing Philippine foreign service posts to determine if overseas Filipinos applying for passport renewal are registered under the OAV. Despite such efforts, registration turnout was dismal and voting percentage did not improve significantly.
“If the (passport) applicant is not registered, the post shall register him or her as an overseas voter first before proceeding with the renewal of the passport. This procedure applies to all Filipino immigrants, overseas workers, seafarers, dual citizens and qualified students studying abroad,” said the DFA in its circular.
Drilon called on the CAC and the Comelec to work closely to ensure that online registration and voting be implemented soonest. He likewise assured them of the Senate's unequivocal support to jump-start the plan.
"The Senate is behind the Comelec in making sure that there are no more disenfranchised overseas Pinoys come 2016. Let’s make it happen!" said Drilon.