MANILA - Several senators on Thursday said they consider allowing overseas voters to elect congressmen in a bid to entice more Filipinos abroad to exercise their right to suffrage.
Of the 1.65 million registered overseas Filipino voters, only 300,000 participated in the 2019 midterm polls, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said, as the Senate discussed the Commission on Election's (Comelec) proposed 2021 budget in plenary.
"To really expand the coverage of the overseas voting system, why don't we include the congressmen in the ballot... similar to what the overseas voting act of the United States?" Sen. Francis Tolentino asked.
"It will generate the participation of our kababayans who are clustered culturally... The Constitution does not prohibit that," he said.
Drilon backed Tolentino's suggestion, saying congressmen may be considered as national candidates since they are elected to a national assembly.
"I want to see a program to increase voter participation," he said.
"Maybe we can go one step backward by... considering congressmen as national candidates," he said.
But Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto said congressmen were not included in overseas ballots as the Comelec may have a hard time sending the documents to far-flung municipalities where votes for House representatives are tallied.
"Unlike in the US, ang bilangan sa local mismo... that ballot should be sent all the way to let's say Batangas, in Lipa, para doon bibilangin," he said.
Drilon suggested giving 2 sets of ballots for overseas Filipino voters: one for national candidates, and the other for local officials.
"That can be a way by which we can increase overseas voting which to this day is very dismal," the Senate minority leader said.
Drilon added that the Comelec must find solutions to entice more Filipinos abroad to participate in the voting process.
"I don't see any program to encourage participation," the senator said.
"Kung 'yung nire-register natin [na voter ay] hindi naman bumuboto, ganun pa din kalalabasan nun," he said.
(If the voters who registered do not cast votes, then there will be no difference.)
Tolentino urged the Comelec to start its voters' education program years before an election, instead of months before Filipinos troop to polling precincts to elect the country's leaders.