Make sure all Filipino seafarers can vote in 2022 election, Comelec told
MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been prodded to make sure that all Filipino seafarers will get to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming national elections in 2022.
During the hearing of the Senate electoral reforms committee on Wednesday, Senator Francis Tolentino raised the plight of Filipino seafarers, who are not able to cast their vote because they are at sea most of the time.
“Comelec should look into the plight of our seafarers. The seafarers cannot vote [while] they’re at sea,” he said.
While the current process allows seafarers to vote by going to the nearest embassy or consular post during the 30-day voting period, the senator noted that most seafarers are at sea for six months, the usual duration of their contracts.
“They’re being required to go to the nearest consular post to vote. How can you do that? So this would require technology. This would require a lot of innovation on the part of Comelec. How could you do this? I really don’t know. Ang laki po ng nawawalang boto at sila po ‘yung gustong bumoto,” he added.
(A big number of votes are being lost. They are the ones who want to vote.)
Tolentino also suggested that Comelec deputize Filipino captains of Philippine-flagged vessels – which, he noted, are considered part of the country’s territory under the law – to oversee the casting of ballots by Filipino seafarers under their authority while at sea.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez agreed with Tolentino’s sentiment and said the poll body is studying other ways to provide seafarers various avenues to cast their votes.
“Right now meron po tayong tinatawag na [we have what we call] ‘vote anywhere’ para sa mga [for the] seaman. Which means that whatever port they’re in, they can actually go to the consular office or embassy there, and actually vote,” Jimenez told senators.
“Ang problema po, gaya nga ng sinabi ni Sen. Francis, eh hindi naman sila palaging naka-dock. So what happens if they don’t dock during the 30-day voting period?” he added.
(The problem is, like what Sen. Francis said, their ships are not always docked. So what happens if they don’t dock during the 30-day voting period.)
He said allowing online voting would be one way to meet the needs of the seafarers.
“They have shipboard internet so if we have online voting using internet technology then possible pong makaboto ‘yung mga seafarers natin habang sila ay naglalayag [it’s possible that they can vote while they’re at sea],” he said.
However, he pointed out that Comelec has yet to make use of online voting technology to allow seafarers to vote while at sea.
“Limitado tayo sa abilities natin [Our abilities are limited]. What we do as an accommodation to seafarers is that we allow them to vote anywhere. So as long as they’re making port calls, there is an embassy or consulate there, then they can vote there,” Jimenez said.
Senator Imee Marcos, chair of the Senate panel, suggested that the 30-day voting period be extended for seafarers.
“Takot pa tayo sa online, and wala pa tayong in place na security features. Is it possible to extend the voting period para lang sa kanila kasi ‘yun nga nakalaot sila nang anim na buwan,” she said.
(We are still wary of online voting, we don’t have security features in place yet. Is it possible to extend the voting period just for them because some of them are at sea for six months.)
Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, on the other hand, proposed that Comelec study the possibility of expanding the coverage of local absentee voting to include seafarers.
“Paano kung isali natin sila sa system ng local absentee voting na pwede sila. Kasi ‘yung vote anywhere nila abroad, limited sa party-list, senators, vice president and president, the same as local absentee voting,” Pimentel said.
(Why don’t we include them in the local absentee voting system? Because the ‘vote anywhere’ system is also limited to party-list, senators, vice president and president, the same as local absentee voting.)
“Kasi kung ang local absentee voting, inexpand natin for the media eh, so siguro a little amendment to the law, we can also include them. Pero choice nila,” he added.
(We expanded the local absentee voting for the media, I think with a little amendment to the law, we can also include seafarers. But it’s still their choice.)
Department of Foreign Affairs Overseas Voting Secretariat acting vice-chairman Edgardo Castro noted during the hearing that seafarers are usually discouraged to register as overseas voters.
“There’s very low registration on the part of seafarers as overseas voters because they’re discouraged by the fact that—since they don’t know where they will be during the election time, therefore—they keep their options open for being able to vote here, as a result, they don’t register as overseas voters,” Castro said.
Marcos said all the ideas raised by the senators are “really urgently necessary so that we can finally capture the seafarers’ vote” in the next elections.