House committee OKs bill allowing OFWs to vote via internet

Victoria Tulad, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 01 2023 05:00 PM | Updated as of Aug 01 2023 05:05 PM

MANILA — The House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms has approved House Bill 6770 or the Overseas Voting Act of 2023, which allows Overseas Filipino Workers to vote via the internet.

OFW Partylist Rep. Marissa Magsino, author of the bill, said the legislation seeks to encourage overseas Filipinos to exercise their right to suffrage while protecting their privacy and the sanctity of their ballot.

Magsino said the convenience that internet voting would bring is the least that the government could do for OFWs in exchange for their sacrifices.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman George Erwin Garcia supported the bill, saying he hopes more voters will be empowered to vote as compared to the turnout in the 2022 elections.

Of the 12 million Filipinos abroad, Garcia said only 1.69 million were registered voters and only 600,000 or just 39 percent actually voted, even though mail-in voting and physical voting in embassies or consulates were allowed.

ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro expressed alarm over the low turnout.

Magsino said OFWs were unable to vote due to the distance of embassies or consulates from their residences, or because they were unable to take a day off from work.

Another advantage of internet voting, according to Garcia, would be the possible savings generated because ballots will no longer be printed and machines will not be sent abroad.

Under Section 23 of Republic Act 10590 or the “The Overseas Voting Act of 2013,” Comelec is allowed to employ other means of voting, which is why back in May of this year, it approved internet voting for OFWs for the 2025 national and local elections.

But if HB 6770 is signed into law, Garcia said Comelec will have a sturdier mandate in implementing internet voting as it will not be questioned before the Supreme Court.

The Department of Foreign Affairs, the National Privacy Commission, and the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections all threw in their support for the bill.

After hurdling the Committee level, HB 6770 will still have to go through second and third reading in the House of Representatives.

Social media guidelines and BSKE

Meanwhile, the Committee also adopted the substitute bill for House Bill 2820 which provides for the fair use of internet and social media during elections.

Garcia said Comelec really wants a law that lays out social media guidelines to avoid the use of troll farms, negative campaigning against a particular candidate, and specifies punishment for violators, among others.

As for their preparations for the Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan Elections (BSKE) this October, Garcia said they are 95 percent ready.

The poll body is still in the process of procuring Automated Counting Machines in place of the Vote Counting Machines (VCM).

So far, four providers have expressed interest, one of which is Smartmatic, the firm that supplied the VCMs.

Garcia also said they are still yet to instruct the Solicitor General to file a motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court to postpone the December 2025 BSKE as they want to clarify the length of the term in office of elected officials and the regularity of the BSKE.