Some 1.69 million Filipinos abroad will cast ballots from Sunday, when the overseas absentee voting (OAV) for the 2022 polls opens, the Commission on Elections said.
“Magsisimula na po 'yung botohan natin sa April 10, alas-8 ng umaga... para sa lahat ng foreign posts natin," Comelec Commissioner George Garcia told ABS-CBN Teleradyo last April 4.
(Our voting will start on April 10, 8 a.m., for all our foreign posts.)
Overseas voters (OV) may vote up to May 9, either through mail or by personally casting their ballot at the assigned Philippine diplomatic post in their area.
Authorities tested and sealed vote counting machines for the OAV from March 21 to 28. But only 4 out of every 10 diplomatic posts or polling places for overseas voters will use the automated system. Majority will still implement manual voting, based on Comelec data.
The OAV was first implemented in the 2004 elections by virtue of the Overseas Absentee Voting Act or R.A. 9189. It was meant to provide equal opportunity for all eligible citizens of the Philippines who are living or staying abroad to exercise their right to suffrage.
The law was later amended by R.A. 10590, which granted Filipinos with dual citizenship the right to vote.
Here, the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group breaks down the data on overseas voters for the May 9, 2022 elections.
A 7-percent drop
According to data obtained from the Comelec Office for Overseas Voting, the 1,697,215 registered OVs for the upcoming polls dropped by 7 percent from 1.82 million registered OVs in 2019, or a decrease of nearly 125,000 voters.
This is the first time that the number of OVs decreased since the Overseas Absentee Voters Act was first implemented in 2004, based on data from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The decrease may be due to the hundreds of thousands of overseas Filipino workers who were forced to return to the Philippines during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. From May 2020 until November 2021 alone, more than 800,000 OFWs were repatriated, according to Overseas Workers Welfare Association administrator Hans Leo Cacdac.
Nearly all are land based, majority are women
Nearly all of the registered overseas voters—99 percent of them or 1,677,631 in total—are land-based. Only 1 percent or 19,584 are seafaring OVs.
Six out of every 10 OVs worldwide (63.17 percent) are women. There are 1.07 million female OVs and only 625,056 male OVs. Hongkong has the largest proportion of female OVs, with 89,629 women compared to only 4,257 men.
This trend is mirrored among land-based OVs, where women outnumber men. Six out of every 10 land-based OVs (63.82 percent) are women. The opposite, however, is true for sea-based OVs, where men greatly outnumber women: 9 out of every 10 sea-based OVs are men (92.76 percent).
75 percent increase in Taiwan, 12 percent growth in Asia-Pacific
While nearly all regions in the world saw a drop in the number of OVs for the 2022 elections, the Asia Pacific region saw an increase at a total of 48,892 more OVs compared to the 2019 elections. This is a 12.18 percent growth from 2019’s 410,390 OVs in the region.
One of the main drivers of this growth is the phenomenal increase in OVs in Taiwan, where their numbers grew by more than 75 percent, from just 41,460 in 2019 to 72,779 for the upcoming polls. This is 31,319 more OVs in Taiwan in 2022 than in 2019.
More voters overseas register during presidential elections
In an email response to ABS-CBN News’ query, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO) stated that the reason behind this big increase in voters in Taiwan is “perhaps that 2022 is a presidential election.”
Since 2004, the first time that overseas voting was implemented, up until 2019, the number of OVs worldwide had gradually increased every election season. The 2016 presidential elections had the highest addition of newly registered OVs at over 600,000.
The number of overseas voters who registered for the 2022 polls however, saw a general decline--the first time that this happened since 2004--because of the decrease in the number of OFWs worldwide.
But in Taiwan, the trend of increasing registration among OVs during a presidential election year was sustained despite the recent drop in the number of OFWs there. According to MECO, the number of OFWs in Taiwan fell to 140,405 this year from 157,487 in 2019. The newly registered OVs in Taiwan are therefore from the existing pool of OFWs and Filipinos living there, the MECO confirmed.
Other countries with a substantial increase of OVs from 2019 to 2022 included New Zealand with a 48.02 percent increase, Australia (28.90 percent), and Oman (15.72 percent).
Quarantine restrictions, voting cost woes
Recently, OFW organizations have raised concerns over problems hounding overseas voting. These include the quarantine restrictions in polling centers in Hong Kong, the low number of voting centers in Saudi Arabia that may affect turnout, the lack of communication from Philippine embassies in Europe, and the delayed arrivals of postal ballots in the US.
Overseas voters are also prohibited from returning their postal ballots to the embassies and consulates in person. They must mail them instead.
The respective representatives of opposition coalition 1Sambayan in Italy and the US, Egay Bonzon and Nerissa Allegretti, pointed out that although the Philippine government covers the postage costs of sending the ballots to voters, OVs have to shoulder expenses for mailing the ballots back to the consulates.
Advocates have also raised the alarm on the cost of voting for Filipinos abroad.
"It is quite expensive for our fellow Filipinos to vote abroad. Not only are the polling places not accessible to them... They either need to go in person. That would mean flying to a center or posting via mail their ballots," lawyer Eirene Aguila of the Right to Know, Right Now Coalition told ANC last April 4.
Less than 50 percent voter turnout
Based on DFA figures, from 2007 to 2019, less than half of all registered OVs actually voted in the polls. The lowest turnout was recorded in 2013, when only 16 percent or about 119,000 voters out of the nearly 738,000 registered OVs cast their vote.
The 2 highest voter turnouts among OVs, meanwhile, were both recorded during a presidential election year.
The highest turnout was logged during the 2004 presidential elections, when 65 percent or 233,137 OVs cast their votes out of the 359,296 who registered.
The second highest was tallied during the 2016 presidential elections, when voter turnout among OVs reached 31.45 percent.
In a bid to increase the overseas voter turnout for the 2022 elections, Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, who oversees the Comelec's OAV division, said it passed a resolution 2 weeks ago on the concept of "vote anywhere."
“When we say concept of vote anywhere, if you are a registered overseas voter in Singapore but during the election period, you happen to be in another post, like for example, you are in Hong Kong, all you have to do is you file a manifest that you intend to vote in that post even if you're not registered in Hong Kong, for as long as you are a registered overseas voter," Casquejo said in a press briefing last April 6.
— With reporting from Che de los Reyes, ABS-CBN Investigative & Research Group