Campaign for overseas voters in full gear

By Maria Althea Teves,

Posted at May 01 2009 05:56 PM | Updated as of May 08 2009 05:38 PM

In four months, the registration of overseas absentee voters (OAV) will close. The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is targeting one million registered OAV for the 2010 elections. But will they reach that target?
Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer told that they are very optimistic that they can get one million, considering that there were already 503,894 registered voters as of 2007. However, more than 100,000 were purged in April 2009 because they failed to vote in the past two elections. This means that a little more than 600,000 will have to be registered to complete the one million mark.
But things are not looking good, considering the short time left for OAV registration and the difficulties that overseas Filipinos have had in listing up.
Victor Barrios of Global Filipino Nation (GFN), an organization lobbying for the rights and welfare of overseas Filipinos, said that physical constraints have hindered registration and voting by Filipinos abroad.
Failure of registration
One reason the Comelec might not reach its target is the Filipino’s “mañana habit,” or postponing chores until the last minute, said Ferrer.


Estimated # of Filipinos at Posts Jurisdiction

OAV Registrants 2003

Total OAV Registrants 2003-2006

# of Registered Overseas Filipinos Who Failed to Vote Twice

# of Qualified Voters per Post after Deletion

2009 OAV Registrants as of April 29

Total OAV Registrants as of April 29, 2009

% of Registrants to date

Asia and the Pacific



























Middle East and Africa




































Source: Department of Foreign Affairs Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat, data as of April 29, 2009; percentage computed by
“A lot of our ‘kababayans’ register during the last few weeks of the registration period,” Ferrer said. computed that a daily average of 1,004 have registered since the start 2009, and if this trend continues until August 31, there would only be about 521,440 registered OAVs—far short of the target.
 “It is hard to discipline our ‘kababayans.’ What is needed now is a strong campaign by Comelec and civil society to encourage registration,” said former Akbayan representative Loretta Rosales, also a lead proponent of the Overseas Absentee Voting Bill in 2003.
Ellene Sana, executive director of the Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines, said that if only more Filipinos registered in Saudi Arabia where there is a large number of our countrymen work, the Comelec may be able to achieve its target.
Compounding the problem of the Filipinos’ lack of a sense of urgency, Partidong Pandaigdigang Pilipino (PPP) credentials committee chair Manolo Benavent said the reported inefficiency of the Philippine embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia have discouraged OFWs from registering as OAVs.
“They take day offs from their jobs, but when they get to the (consulates), they are closed. We want them to either open on weekends or conduct field registrations but they do not,” he said.
He also cited the problem in Riyadh where there is only one data-capturing machine for some 500,000 Filipinos who work there.
Sana said that in the eastern province Al Khobar, which has about 340,000 OFWs, OAV registration has not yet started.
Although Ferrer said that the Comelec conducts field registrations in far-flung provinces, Benavent claimed that PPP members in the Eastern, Western and Central regions of the Middle East report no such efforts.
CMA is appealing to the Comelec to conduct OAV field registration in Al Khobar as it had done in Riyadh and Jeddah.
GFN’s Barrios, who lives in San Francisco, said that the consulate in his area, which is responsible for registering Filipinos from 10 states, happens to be closed whenever Filipinos come to register.
“They close 4 p.m., before anyone could leave after work. Some even need to take the plane because they are from outside. Some take a half a day or a whole day drive to the consulate,” he said.
Sana said another factor contributing to the low turn out of OAV registrants is “simply ignorance.”

“Many overseas Filipinos and OFWs still do not know about the OAV. Truly, there is a need for a sustained wide information campaign on OAV,” she said.

Benavent noted that the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Comelec have not reached out to Filipinos living illegally abroad.

“The tago-ng-tago (TNTs) could also vote. A large number is growing in Italy. You do not need to surrender your visa when you register, just your passport or the residence permit given by your employer and other required documents” are all that is needed, Benavent said.

Where have all the registrants gone?

Where have all the OAV registrants gone in the 2007 elections? A high number of OAV registrants do not guarantee a high voter turnout.
In 2007, there were 504,124 registered overseas voters, but only 16.21% cast their ballots. In contrast, 64.89 percent of 359,296 registered OAVs voted in the 2004 elections.

Rosales said that Section 5 of RA 9189, also known as the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003, discriminates and makes it hard for overseas Filipinos residents and migrants to register and vote.

She said the law requires OAVs to return to the country within three years after voting. There is now a proposal to extend the period to 5-7 years to encourage more participation during elections, she said.

She also said that it is unfair that those who have dual citizenship could vote and that Filipino migrants could not, “The Supreme Court said the Dutch-Filipinos can vote, but the Filipinos can’t?”

Ferrer said that Comelec is also in a dilemma with regard to Filipino seafarers who are reluctant to register since “chances are, come election time, they will not be able to cast their votes” because they could be in the middle of the ocean.

One way of casting the overseas ballot is by mail, but not all posts abroad allow this, which could account for the low voter turnout.
Benavent said that in Saudi Arabia, most OFWs are not allowed to vote by mail.

“They find that the P.O. box system in the Middle East unreliable,” he said. He said that Rep. Teodoro Locsin said it is unreliable because Saudi employers could persuade the Filipinos to vote for a certain candidate. “Our offices in the Middle East have not reported such cases. I do not know where he got that information,”
Benavent said.

He added that most are not aware that all residents in the Middle East, not just OFWs who have no permanent residences, use the P.O. box system.
Internet voting to increase voter turnout

Commissioner Ferrer said that Internet voting would be a “more cost efficient way to increase voters’ turnout.”

Barrios also recommended Internet voting since overseas Filipinos would not “be bound by the inconvenience of time and space.”

Ferrer assured that Internet voting, which was tested in August 2007 in Singapore, is quite safe. “It was reported that there were 4,055 attempts to penetrate and test the system at that time, all unsolicited and without the Commission’s sanction,” he said. The attempts were supposed to change the votes cast and manipulate information about the voters.

He said that that all those failed as the system was able to detect and thwart them. “We are not saying that Internet voting is a fail safe mode of voting, but the result in Singapore was encouraging,” he said.

Internet voting is being considered for the 2010 elections.

GFN’s position paper pushing for Internet voting would be discussed in the Senate on May 19 following the amendments to the OAV Act and overseas registration.
Rosales said there must “stability, security and confidence of the people in COMELEC to conduct clean elections” before Internet voting is allowed.

Sana and Rosales question the voters’ verification method if ever Internet voting would be adapted. “How could you test them for biometrics? How about their thumbprint? These are still questionable,” Rosales said.

Barrios said that GFN consulted with I.T. specialists, both local and foreign, about voters’ verification should Internet voting be used.
“They have tested verification methods for Internet voting, such has passport number identification and voice detection. These methods are both unique, only one person has it like the thumb mark,” Barrios said.

Swing vote?

Benavent said that it would indeed make a great impact if all overseas Filipinos would register and vote.

They can provide the “swing vote” in any election, and this has discouraged politicians from pushing hard for absentee voting.
The good thing about the overseas Filipino swing vote, should it happen, is that “they are very cosmopolitan. They are safe from vote buying and coercion by traditional politicians,” Rosales said.