Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Simplify registration and voting for Overseas Filipinos

Posted by butalidnl on 13 October 2006

In the House of Representatives, there is a pending bill (House Bill 5329) which seeks to amend the “Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003” (or, RA 9189). HB 5329, instead of offering ways to make it easier for Overseas Filipinos (OFs) to vote in Philippine elections, propose to further restrict the process, adding all kinds of procedures and requirements for prospective voters. It is no surprise therefore, that many Overseas Filipino organizations have rejected the proposed law.

Congress should pass a law amending the OAVL in the opposite direction – away from the restrictive provisions of HB 5329, and instead to make the law more inclusive so as to encourage maximum participation of Overseas Filipinos in the democratic process. Simplifying the registration and voting procedure would do a lot to make more Overseas Filipinos participate in elections.

I wonder why it is really necessary for Overseas Filipinos to register for every election. For many other countries, this is not required; all you need is to notify the diplomatic post of your presence in the country. Then, you are automatically considered as being part of the voters in the area.

What is the problem is we eliminate the need for registration for Overseas Filipinos who vote in person in the various embassies and consulates? After all, all OFs have Philippine passports, and these are supposedly fraud-proof (or at least, as fraud-proof as the Comelec IDs). Why can’t we simply come to the Philippine embassy during the voting period, show our passport, and then vote in the election. The embassy/Comelec personnel then need to make a special mark in the passport indicating that the passport holder has voted. Of course, for those opting for mailed-in votes, a personal appearance is needed to register for postal voting. During this registration, the passport would then be marked indicating that the owner opted for postal voting.

This system would have a big effect on the OFs’ participating in Philippine elections. For one, it would mean one less day needed for travel (and lost work hours) in order to register or vote. Those opting for personal voting will then need to appear only on voting day, those opting for postal voting only on the day they register. Then, there is the advantage for seamen – they no longer need to predict where they will be 10 months in advance (as is the case in the present system). They will then simply have to go to a Philippine diplomatic post (embassy or consulate) or other designated voting areas in order to vote.

What about the danger of fraud? This is the question always in the mind of our legislators, it seems. This is minimal, with the system I am proposing.

Flying voters? With a mark on the passport that indicates if one has already voted, the only way a person could be a “flying voter” is if they manage to have two Philippine passports. What about if the person first votes abroad, and then returns to the Philippines? The overseas voting post would report to the Philippines re who has voted there, and thus a person who votes twice this way would be caught. (there could be all kinds of systems made e.g. marking the Philippine voting ID together with the passport, etc.)
As for the problem of returning OFs not having voted abroad, but not able to vote in their Philippine polling station, there is a simple solution. They could be required to present their passport at a special polling station, and have this marked in order to be allowed to vote.

This procedure of simply presenting one’s passport when voting also makes it easier for “undocumented” Filipinos (a.k.a. “TNT”) to vote. They would be naturally hesitant to give their address to Comelec authorities when they register under the present system. Also, having to go to the embassy twice – first to register, and then to vote – leaves them doubly vulnerable to the host country’s immigration police.

Permanent residents or dual citizens who want to vote should also be allowed to do so without having to sign any affidavit re their “intent to return” . This is discrimination and an undue restriction of the rights of a group of Filipino citizens. This rule discourages people from wanting to vote.

Any amendments to the present Overseas Absentee Voting Law (OAVL, RA 9189) should have as their guiding principle the need to enable as many Overseas Filipinos fully participate in the democratic process.

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