MANILA, Philippines?Overseas absentee voters have between April 10 to 6 p.m. (Manila time) of May 10 to pick their choices for president, vice president, 12 senators, and party list.
As with the rest of the ballots cast by Filipino voters in the Philippines, OAV ballots will be counted nonstop and relayed to the Commission on Elections.
Of the 8.1 million Filipinos spread around the world (workers, residents), only 589,830 overseas Filipinos are registered for the May 2010 national elections.
There are a total of 215,546 voters in the Asia Pacific, 66,745 in the Americas, 61,294 in Europe, 225,148 in the Middle East and Africa, and 21,097 seafarers. Sea-based Filipino workers may personally vote at the embassy or consulate provided the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs? Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat (DFA OAVS) have identified international sea ports under their jurisdiction.
PCOS only in HK, Singapore
One hundred two diplomatic posts (embassies and consulates) will have postal voting and 70 posts will have personal voting (voter has to cast his ballot at the embassy or consulate).
For the first time, 127,206 overseas Filipino workers will vote using the new automated voting system in Hong Kong and Singapore, with 95,355 and 31,851 voters, respectively.
Civil society organizations like the Center for Migrant Advocacy have been advocating for the recognition of overseas Filipinos? voting rights from the late ?80s until the passage of the Overseas Absentee Voting Law in 2003 and until the past two national elections in 2004 and 2007 when it was finally implemented.
Unfortunately, while voter turnout in 2004 was 65 percent, it plunged to only 16 percent in 2007 for various reasons, including the backlash of the ?Hello Garci? scandal of 2004, the lack of information campaigns, the discriminatory and disenfranchising affidavit requirement from Filipino immigrants and permanent residents in other countries to return to the Philippines to establish domicile within three years from registration, voter-unfriendly post staff on top of inaccessible embassies and consulates and fast turnover of staff.
What is urgent now is that all stakeholders help inform and enable the most number of registrants to vote with conscience. The Hong Kong consulate is a model in reaching out to its constituency.
Daphne Ceniza-Kuok, a volunteer of the Special Board of Election Inspectors in Hong Kong, said the consulate has talked with the banks in Worldwide House, located near Chater Garden in Central Hong Kong where Filipino migrants congregate every Sunday, to allow their monitors to show CDs on automated voting. It has also talked to Smart 1528 Barkadahan and Vodaphone to conduct text blasts to inform its around 60,000 subscribers on the location of the polling places. OAV will also be discussed in the three Filipino radio programs. Almost 80 percent (95,355) of Filipinos in Hong Kong are registered voters. It is no wonder that many candidates troop there to court their votes.
Voting by mail
In Taiwan, the Manila Economic and Cultural Office mailed out information on the elections to its constituency as did the embassy in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, the consulates in New York and San Francisco and other posts. The Comelec admitted that it did not have a budget for information campaigns. Thus, CMA printed 50,000 flyers (separate flyers for personal, for postal and for automated voting) in addition to 1,500 posters. The center disseminated these to its partner organizations abroad like the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns in Switzerland, Damayan in Belgium, and Kasapi in Greece. The CMA also sent these to the different Philippine embassies and consulates abroad in partnership with the DFA OAVS.
In comparison, 11 percent of around a million Filipinos in Saudi Arabia are registered voters who have to go to either the embassy in Riyadh or the consulate in Jeddah or the field polling place in Al Khobar, under the supervision of the embassy in Riyadh. OFWs there are hampered by the lack of available mass public transport to go to the polling centers. Women OFWs are particularly affected because they are not allowed to travel alone.
How to get high turnout
But first, the government has to address key problems revealed in the last two elections to invite more confidence in the electoral exercise and inspire other stakeholders to support its efforts at enjoining overseas Filipinos to vote between April and May. For one, its registration and voter turnout targeting have to be backed with the budget to realize it. The diplomatic posts should be more proactive in reaching out to the Filipino communities and organizations to inform them about the elections, especially in Singapore where the new automated voting system is a very challenging prospect. Who staffs the post has a lot to do with the success of overseas absentee voting there.
Feedback from Filipinos in Japan has it that the posts there are not voter-friendly in terms of both location and personnel as the law is not voter-friendly either. It requires personal registration. In contrast, as evidenced by the registration and voter turnout in Hong Kong, the high momentum of Filipino organizers there complements the consulate?s efforts at making the elections a success.
Other stakeholders have to contribute what they can to help government inform and enable the most number of registrants to vote wisely.
Many Filipino organizations abroad reproduce voter information materials out of their own pockets, understanding the urgency of informing kababayans abroad about the mechanics of voting as well as their right to vote and to participate in Philippine governance.
In the Middle East, Patnubay.com in partnership with the CMA came out with a video post for YouTube in time for the start of the overseas voting. In the US, the National Federation of Filipino American Associations and other Filipino organizations have been holding meetings to inform Filipinos in the US about the upcoming elections. In Switzerland, the UP Alumni Association and the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns have been active in the information campaign since the voter registration period.
Here in the Philippines, the Scalabrinian Lay Association and the CMA have been reaching out to Balik Manggagawa at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration. The CMA and Task Force 2010 try to maximize the use of the media to help inform overseas Filipinos directly and through their families left behind.
Come May 10
But more support is needed during the actual voting up to the counting stages.
In the past two elections, Filipino organizations in the Middle East negotiated with company owners to provide transport to enable their Filipino employees to vote. Both government and civil society can still maximize the use of the multimedia to reach out to kababayans worldwide.
On the part of overseas Filipinos themselves and civil society, proactive citizenship is the call of the times while we continue policy advocacy. In addition, Namfrel also calls on volunteers among Filipinos abroad to help out in its parallel counting and to help in other ways to ensure honest elections.
There is a lot to do still to make overseas Filipino voters a significant voters? bloc. The law is still new. But for as long as all stakeholders incorporate into succeeding practice what is learned from each implementation of the law, for sure and soon, Filipinos abroad will be a force to reckon with, not only during elections but in the whole of Philippine political life.
OFWs by the numbers
8.1 million: estimated number of overseas Filipinos around the world (as of December 2008)
589,830: total of registered overseas Filipino voters around the world
1 million: estimated number of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia
111,549: registered voters
155,317: estimated number of Filipinos in Hong Kong
95,355: registered votersRhodora A. Abano, Center for Migrant Advocacy