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Comelec’s disenfranchisement of 245,000 overseas voters angers global Filipinos

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At the recently concluded Second Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora, a major conference of  Filipinos residing and working in different countries – attendees expressed frustration and anger at the summary decision by Comelec to remove the names of some 245,000 Filipinos overseas voters (OVs) from its qualified voters list.

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez stated that under Republic Act 4630 Section 19, “failure to vote in two successive elections is grounds for disqualification from the Comelec Voters List.”

He added: “There appears to be no cogent or compelling reason not to apply the law.” To many, Jimenez’ statement displayed Comelec officials lack of sensitivity to the situations of Filipinos overseas, disregard for their voting rights and an erroneous understanding of the law.

Here are nine reasons that are not only cogent – but should be  compelling enough for Comelec not to remove

245,000 OVs from its voting list:

1. The aggregate contributions of overseas Filipinos, many of whom are OVs – keep the economy of the Philippines afloat. The country owes them much.

2. Without their sacrifices in going to distant foreign lands and cultures, family separation, loneliness, extreme weathers braving, harsh immigration laws, etc. – millions in the Philippines would not have adequate food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care.

3. By having registered to vote, OVs show their willingness to participate in the Philippine democratic process of electing leaders.

4. The best voters are OVs. Warlord dynasty politicians cannot buy their votes nor coerce them. Thus they will independently vote for the most honest and competent candidates – leading to a better quality of governance which the Philippines desperately needs.

5. It takes a lot of effort to reach Filipinos overseas to register as they are so busy working aside from the fact that thousands live and work far away from the nearest Philippine Consulateso any work as seamen at ships which are constantly at sea. Civic minded Filipinos, Consulate officials and the Comelec itself – went to great efforts to enable them to register. Now, with a snap of their fingers, some Comelec officials removed 245,000 of them from the voters list. This does not make sense.

6. The inadequate method used by Comelec to warn OVs that they will be removed from the voters’ list unless  they manifest their intentions to vote in the next elections – does not actually  give effective  notice.  This announcement was published in two Philippine newspapers. How probable is it for OVs working in faraway foreign lands or working as seamen in ships to get this message? The result speaks for itself. Only 29 OVs complied with manifesting their

intention to vote in the next elections.

7. While Congress gave Comelec the power to remove voters from the voters list – it also gave Comelec the power not to remove them. There are no legal impediments for the Comelec to not remove OVs from the voters list if the Commissioners choose that option.

Congress gave them this discretionary power to enable them to use their common sense to make intelligent decisions based on the given facts. Preserving the voting rights of OVs who contribute much to the country and who wants  to participate in the democratic process  compels Comelec not to remove them from the voters’ list.

8. The Comelec has repeatedly announced that it is aggressively pursuing more voter registration for overseas Filipinos.  Why then go against this supposed goal by dropping thousands of already registered OVs? Why waste considerable amounts of time,  money and effort in getting them to again register in the future?

9. Common sense, fairness, democratic principles, respect for citizens rights to vote, an understanding of the difficult physical locations and work situations of OVs, a recognition of the service and sacrifices of OVs to the country, the general interest of the citizenry and the Philippines – and for other unstated reasons – all these – compel the Comelec

not to remove 245,000 OVs from the voters’ list.

I could think of additional intelligent good reasons aside from these nine but they should be enough to show that Comelec’s inability of not being able to come up with even one single intelligent reason why they should not remove thousands of OVs from its voters’ list – shows the quality or more accurately, the lack of it – in Comelec’s policy and decision making process. It shows terrible insensitivity and disregard for the voting rights and concerns of hundreds of thousands of overseas voters who contribute enormously to the country’s welfare.

Comelec’s announcement through its spokesperson that they could not find one single intelligent reason why they should not remove 245,000 OVs from its voters list is not so much an insult to the intelligence of Filipinos but may be an insult to the collective intelligence and decision making process of the Comelec itself – if they stick to this distorted decision.

Some Comelec Commissioners may have been in good faith in carrying out this decision  – with some  mistakenly believing that the law  absolutely compels them to remove voters who are not able to vote consecutively twice in a row. This is not the case. The Comelec’s  discretionary powers allow the Commissioners  a wide latitude of discretion – to enable them to arrive at a proper decision.

Comelec and other institutions or individuals – should not be bound to carry out bad decisions when a mistake is made. We all make mistakes especially when we have wrong or incomplete facts. We should be humble enough to recognize our mistakes when we make them – and correct them.

Here, Comelec made a serious mistake when it summarily removed 245,000 OVs from its voters’ list. The Commissioners should reverse themselves and and restore the names that were removed – as it is the right thing to do for the good of all and the country.

This is not a conflict or war situation where overseas  Filipinos are lined up on one side and Comelec forces on the other. Instead it should be all of  us working together as one trying to solve problems for the common good. Comelec clearly acted harshly in removing OVs from its voting list. Comelec should be humble yet magnanimous enough   to admit that it made a mistake. It should  rectify the problem by reversing its own decision.

Of note in this Second Global Summit of Filipinos in the Diaspora, for the first time in history, a global organization of Filipinos overseas was established. The Global Filipino Diaspora Council (GFDC)  with its Constitution and By-Laws composed of Filipinos from the five continents – was formaly recognized by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.

The lawyers of the GFDC led by Rodel Rodis and yours truly will argue  for the restoration of the removed names of OVs before the Comelec and bring the matter to the Philippine Supreme Court if necessary.

Note: Atty. Ted Laguatan is a human rights lawyer and is also one of only 29 US lawyers  officially certified continuously  for almost 25 years  by the California State Bar as Expert/Specialists in Immigration Law.  He

also does accident injuries, wrongful death and complex litigation. For communications: (San Francisco Bay Area) 455 Hickey Blvd., Daly City, Ca 94015 Email laguatanlaw@gmail.com Tel 650-991-1154 Fax 650-991-1186


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  • opinyonlangpo

    That’s the Philippine government for you.

  • GMGUERRERO

    COMELEC’s TRUE COMPELLING REASON is stated as #4 in Attorney Laguatan’s list of 9 reasons.

    Reason #4, “The best voters are OVs.  Warlord politicians cannot buy their votes nor coerce them.  Thus they will independently vote for the most honest and competent candidates, leading to a better quality of governance which the Philippines desperately needs.”

    Period.

  • http://twitter.com/aidsasis Adrian Asis

    if they don’t care enough to vote for two elections, nor care enough to make sure they keep themselves in the voters’ list (as 29 were able to do), why shouldn’t they be removed? if you don’t do your part, you lose your privilege — makes sense to me.

  • alcantara1

    When we had our dialogue with Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca the other day, I was pleased that Chairman Brillantes joined the discussions and took on board the above arguments by Ted Laguatan (and Rodel Rodis) and basically acknowledged that they may have made a mistake by deactivating such a huge number of already-registered overseas voters without understandable reasons.  The good thing is it shows flexibility and goodwill on the part of the government, not stubborn bureaucratic arrogance and rigidity.  True there may be practical difficulties in reactivating the quarter of a million overseas voters deactivated, particularly as the elections are only a few weeks away.  However it is still a distance away so the Comelec could still put something in place manually if necessary since only Hong Kong and the Middle East are apparently being automated.

    This is welcome news for European Filipinos.  We are spread over a continent of some 50 countries big and small and it has been very difficult to encourage voter registration particularly where embassies/consulates only exist in the major capitals. We have to keep at it because it is a right of every Filipino wherever they may be to be able to elect national positions.  They may not always be able to cast their ballot if they are away on sea voyages, or in some remote areas of Europe, but voter turnout or behaviour should not decide whether one should be allowed to vote or not.  

    The recent changes to overseas voting legislation to delete the word ”absentee” as well as the removal of the need to sign an affidavit of intent to return are very welcome news indeed for all Filipinos based around the world.  To then remove voters already registered when such changes were imminent shows a lack of awareness of what the left hand of the government is doing from its right hand.  Especially considering the government target of registering 1 million overseas voters for the 2013 elections, to then deactivate a quarter of a million of already registered voters makes a mockery of the whole set up.  It also gives a very conflicting, very negative message to overseas Filipinos as to how they are viewed by the powers that be. 

    10m overseas Filipinos are a major voting bloc.  No doubt if we could encourage as many of them to vote as possible in Philippine national elections, their choice would be crucial in electing he right officials for our beloved country.

    Gene Alcantara
    Chair, European Network of Filipino Diaspora

    • GMGUERRERO

      Here in the U.S. registering and voting by mail is a huge success. Where there is a will there is a way.



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