TFC News

Covid-19 hits PH Consulate - New York staff; Fil-Am groups air concerns

Don Tagala | TFC News New York

Posted at Apr 20 2022 02:12 PM | Updated as of Apr 21 2022 09:33 AM

Watch more News on iWantTFC

The Philippine Consulate General in New York is suspending its consular services beginning Wednesday due to a number of consular staff who tested positive for Covid-19 or have been exposed to the coronavirus.

Consular service appointments will be rescheduled and those who visited the Philippine Center on Fifth Avenue in New York are advised to take the necessary Covid tests and precautions for potential exposure to the virus. But despite this new challenge, Consul General Elmer Cato assured ABS-CBN News that the overseas voting process for the 2022 Philippine elections will continue.

"Our overseas voting processes and operations will not be affected. We are giving priority to this. Ilan na lang po kaming natira dito so despite that, we will continue working to get out the remaining ballots," Cato noted.

The consulate began feeding accomplished ballots to vote counting machines at the Philippine Center on Monday. Cato said that as of Tuesday, nearly 60% of the 39,048 ballots have been mailed out to registered voters.

"We would like to assure them that as long as there are still some of us standing, we will continue sending out those ballots."

But with less than 20 days to go before the May 9 deadline for overseas voting ballots to be counted, some Filipino groups are expressing concerns about the delayed rollout of election materials.

"Filipinos are still without ballots and the Comelec is noting a lot of delays. This is despite the Republic Act No. 9189 provision stating that the Comelec should have transmitted ballots to embassies and consulates no later than 75 days before the day of elections," Nikki De Leon of the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns pointed out.

They are urging the Comelec to extend the voting period due to its 28-day delayed shipment of poll materials. "It would have been best if they could extend the voting period so I think we should be discussing that... to come up with some kind of a petition to Comelec in the Philippines to extend the voting period because of the delay in the mailing of the ballots," Xenia Tupas of Migrante LA said.

Tabitha Ponciano of Malaya Movement USA added, "one thing we can do, and really something to creatively think about in the next two weeks, in the three weeks leading up to the elections, is how do we take and deliver our votes together to the consulates if you have them, making sure that when you have your ballot in hand, delivering it directly to the doors of the consulates. So that the issue of mailing or stamps, it's outside of the question and I know that's not possible for everyone across the country kasi wala namang consulates all over the country."

The consulate is confident that they should be able to send the last ballot before the week ends, and that consular operations could resume on Monday, April 25. Accomplished ballots must be physically in the premises of consulates and embassies on May 9 at 7am Eastern Time to be counted.