Comelec’s disenfranchisement of 245,000 overseas voters angers global Filipinos
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 [email protected] Tel 650-991-1154 Fax 650-991-1186