Overseas Filipinos complain of alleged delays in absentee voting preparation

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 05 2022 04:11 PM

MANILA -- Representatives of overseas Filipino voters from all over the world are complaining of alleged various delays in the preparations for the Overseas Absentee Voting which will start April 10.

Shiela Bonifacio of the the United Filipinos in Hong Kong scored the Philippine consulate there for alleged delays, specifically in scheduling a meeting with the community to discuss the conduct of the elections in the middle of a pandemic. 

She recalled that in previous elections, meetings with the local community would be called months in advance. This year, a meeting was held only on April 3. Bonifacio said she is is worried since there are 14,000 first-time voters from the area in this year's polls. 

Bonifacio also pointed out that some voters may be disenfranchised due to the COVID-19 quarantine restrictions in the 5 polling precincts in Hong Kong.

She explained that each precinct can only accomodate 10 voters at a time, Since the precincts will only be open for 9 hours a day, that means only a maximum of 1,350 voters can be accommodated each day of voting, or around 40,500 for the 30 voting days. 

That number is just 40 percent of the 93,000 registered voters in Hong Kong, she said.

Bonifacio calls on the government to double the number of precincts in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, Marlon Gatdula of 1Sambayan Saudi Arabia said only 42 percent of registered voters got to vote in the 2019 elections as not all were allowed by their employers to vote.

Gatdula also said the field centers and mobile voting centers put in place by the government may not be enough.

He noted that in a country of 300,000 registered Filipino voters, there are only 3 voting centers: Jeddha, Riyadh and Al Khobar. Gatdula said in some locations, voters have to travel 12 hours by land just to vote. 

Gatdula said he hopes there will be more field services for voting in the May 2022 polls. 

Egay Bonzon, 1Sambayan coordinator for Italy, said similar problems were reported in Europe, citing the lack of communication from the Philippine embassy there.

He also complained of late notices for watchers to join the final testing and sealing of the vote counting machines.

Nerissa Allegretti of 1Sambayan USA echoed fears of disenfranchisement, noting there are reports that postal ballots have not yet been received with just days to go before the voting starts.

Bonzon and Allegretti also raised concerns on the return of postal ballots to the embassies and consulates because for this election, voters can no longer return ballots in person and must instead mail them. 

Both pointed out that while the Philippine government usually shoulders the cost of sending the ballots to the voters, the voters have to spend for the postage of the ballots to send them back to the consulates.

Overseas Absentee Voting will close on May 9. Voters may do it in consulates or embassies, or by post.

There are 1,697,215 registered overseas voters for the May 2022 elections, according to the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group, based on data obtained from the Comelec.

Nearly half of them are in the Middle East.

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