OAV registration only half-way through 1M as deadline nears

by Maria Althea Teves, abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak

Posted at Aug 26 2009 07:44 PM | Updated as of Aug 28 2009 01:44 AM

Failure to meet target blamed on snail-paced registration approval process, equipment malfunction

With less than a week to go before the registration period for Overseas Absentee Voters’ (OAV) registration closes, the foreign affairs department is barely halfway through its target to register 1-million overseas Filipinos for the 2010 elections.

Abs-cbnNEWS.com/Newsbreak found that the total number of OAV registrants as of August 26, 2009 is just 572,632.

This number includes those who registered for previous elections. It also includes new registrants from February 1 to August 26 totaling 201,328.

Ambassador Nestor Padalhin, Vice Chairman of the Department of Foreign Affairs secretariat for Overseas Absentee Voting (DFA-OAVS), said that he is happy with the number of registrants even though the 1-million target is impossible to reach come closing date August 31.

This is because the number of new registrants is higher in 2009 than in 2005-2006 registration for the 2007 elections, he said.

Only 142,667 Filipinos overseas registered to vote from 2005-2006 for the 2007 elections.

The increase in number of applicants is not credited only to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the DFA, Padalhin said. The Filipino communities abroad who gave their all-out support in promoting OAV registration should be applauded, he added.

One of the biggest Filipino migrant groups, Migrante International mobilized all their chapters around the world. Migrante International believes they have done their part to promote OAV registration. They have 9 chapters in the 10 countries worldwide that topped OAV listing with most number of registrants.

Top Ten Countries, as of August 26, 2009
1 United States of America 29,595
2 China 21,204
3 United Arab Emirates 15,164
4 Kingdom of Saudi Arabia 12,561
5 Singapore 9,921
6 Taiwan 8,464
7 Canada 7,198
8 Japan 6,834
9 United Kingdom 5,478
10 Italy 4,929


Source: DFA Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat

The Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines, Partido ng Pandaigdigang Pilipino and Global Filipino Nation (GFN) are also among the Filipino groups who contributed to the OAV registration campaign around the world.

Registrants’ approval—snail paced?

Although there are a lot of registrants, not all of them could vote. Each application still has to be approved by the Comelec’s Resident Election Registration Board (RERB) in the Philippines.

The approval process is slow. Because of this, Migrante International appealed through a statement dated August 25 for the extension of OAV registration until December 31, 2009.

Chairman of Migrante International Garry Martinez explained in the statement that the snail-paced approval of applicants is a result of RERB’s convening only twice.

Comelec OAV (COAV) data, however, shows that the RERB has already conducted 5 hearings since April 4, 2009 and that over 115,000 applicants have been approved.

Date of Hearing Registration Certification Disapproved Total No. of Applications Heard
April 4, 2009 2,188 2,563 170 4,921
May 5, 2009 6,058 6,233 512 12,830
June 9, 2009 8,337 10,488 679 19,504
July 6, 2009 12,274 16,017 1,399 29,690
August 4, 2009 20,895 26,449 1,542 48,886
      Total: 115,831


Source: Commission on Elections Committee on Overseas Absentee Voting

There are 14,938 applications to process for the 6th hearing of the RERB on September 4. The last hearing is scheduled October 19, 2009.

Last minute efforts

In April, migrant groups received a lot of complaints from overseas Filipino members in their foreign chapters saying they can’t register because they are far from the registration areas.

By the end of July, there were only a total of 530,408 registered OAV. The Comelec and DFA were trying to boost the number of registered applicants, striving to meet the 1-million target.

Because of this, the Comelec signed a memorandum of agreement with Overseas Workers’ Welfare Administration (OWWA) July 2 to put up a Pre-Departure Registration Center for departing OFWs at the OWWA office in Intramuros, Manila.

Comelec and OWWA targeted the 1,200 OFWs who depart weekly and are required to attend OWWA’s Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar to register for OAV.

Around the world, the DFA-OAVs also intensified mobile and field registrations in all embassies and consulates from July to August.

Padalhin said that ever since the start of registration of absentee voting in February, they have been conducting such registrations.

“The field and mobile registrations are done to accommodate those geographically far from the embassies and consulates,” Padalhin said.

The number of field and mobile registrations reached over 200 in late July, because it was only then that DFA-OAVS intensified operations.

Mobile registrations are done in sync with embassy activities and outreach programs. The funding comes from the DFA-OAVS budget, Padalhin said. Field registration is proposed by the consulate for approval of the Comelec because it is the latter that disburses and spends for field registrations. Field registration would not be approved unless the Comelec is warranted 200 OAV applicants.

Bulk of the budget for both types of registrations goes to transportation. “Plane and bus tickets and transport of the machines are the budget concerns when sending proposals to Comelec as well as when DFA goes on mobile registrations,” Padalhin said.

The efforts of Comelec and DFA-OAVS, Padalhin said, did not go to waste. Over 70,000 more registered in just 2 months (July and August).

DCMs delayed registration

Overseas Filipinos complained that malfunctioning Data Capturing Machines (DCMs) also slowed down the registration process. These machines store the biometrics data of registrants or their photos, signatures and fingerprints.

“The DCMs really crash from time to time. The DCMs we have are old because they have been with us since 2003—when the OAV Act was approved,” Padalhin said laughing.

But, crashing DCMs is not a laughing matter, said GFN Convenor Victor Barrios.

Some overseas Filipinos take a leave from work to fly or commute to registration posts just to find that the machines don’t work and that they have to come back another day, Barrios said. “Time is valuable for overseas Filipinos,” he added.

Padalhin said they understand the grievances of the OFWs. But he said that the biggest problem is that in the midst of the registration process, parts of the machines could not be individually replaced because they are outdated. Sometimes, it takes days if not weeks to replace the DCMs.

“The parts are not available in the market anymore. When there is malfunction, we have to replace the machines,” he said.

More could have registered if not for the defective machines, he conceded.

Internet voting

Filipinos abroad are also discouraged from registering because going to embassies and consulates is inconvenient come voting period, said Barrios.

Padalhin said that he wants internet voting to be approved because it would encourage overseas Filipinos to register and vote. This, however, is not yet allowed under the law.

Barrios said that it would be good to approve internet voting since the law only allows not more than 3 countries to vote by mail during the May 2004 national elections. It would accommodate Filipinos who are far from voting posts.

GFN consulted with IT specialists about security measures of internet voting such as passport number identification and voice detection—both are unique only to a person, Barrios said. “To incorporate internet voting to the existing law, security tests have to be conducted first,” he said.

The DFA-OAVs and Comelec have not yet conducted a lot of the security tests required, Padalhin said. He added though that they welcome any developments and suggestions of Filipino communities abroad.

Padalhin added that there will be a whole different registration process for internet voting because those who applied in consulates and embassies should register again online.

“OAVS is very open to internet voting and I think that internet registration would be easy. But Comelec’s concern is biometrics capturing, especially with the signature,” he said. He asked: “How could you do this online?”

More countries might vote by mail

Approval of online voting may be an impossible undertaking for now, Padalhin said, since they are towards the end of the OAV registration period. He added, however, that they are gathering recommendations per post as to what type of voting would be appropriate in their respective areas.

Padalhin said he really wished there would be amendments to the law to accommodate those who find it inconvenient to vote. The amendment, he said, would encourage Filipinos abroad to register.

He said that he thinks the overseas Filipinos in the US would most likely vote by mail because there are a lot of Filipinos far from consulates and embassies.

But in the Middle East, he said, the DFA is inclined towards voting by personal appearance even when there are a lot of OFWs who are busy and are in far flung areas. He said because the mailing system in the region is not personalized, it would be hard for both Comelec and DFA to verify whether the mailed ballot really came from the overseas Filipino voter.