Group wants amendments to overseas absentee voting law

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/18 November) – The local chapter of Migrante party-list called for the approval of the amendments to Republic Act 9189 or the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Act, and increase in the budget for voters’ education.

In Migrante’s assembly held here on Saturday, some 50 returning overseas Filipino workers and families said they support the call for changes to the law to address the problem of massive disenfranchisement.

Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson and first nominee of Migrante said among the proposed amendments is the manner of voting, especially for those who are quite distant from the Philippine embassies and consulates.

She said online voting should be allowed and there should be more deputized mobile registration and voting centers, which will require an increase in budget to cover overseas Filipinos in 239 countries.

“For the last two years, the Aquino administration allotted only P43 M for OAV. With this, only P15M was allotted to voters’ education,” she added.

Regalado said they will wait and see if Senate Bill 3312, an act amending RA 9189 can be passed before Congress adjourns for the Christmas break.

House Bill 6542, which also amends RA 9189, had been approved last month.

The bill no longer requires Filipino immigrants and permanent residents to execute an affidavit of intent to return and establish permanent physical residence in the Philippines.

In addition, the Comelec will explore and adopt more modes of registration and voting, including online systems, without doing away with postal voting and personal appearance in designated voting centers.

Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, Senate committee chair on electoral reforms and people’s participation, earlier said that in 2010, there were less than 600,000 registered overseas absentee voters and only 26 percent of them voted.

“The Philippines has one of the largest populations of overseas workers worldwide. Yet the sad reality is that we have one of the lowest numbers of registered OAVs among countries that allow overseas voting,” Pimentel said in an earlier statement.

Regalado said Migrante is present in at least 10 major regions and 23 countries.

The group first joined the elections in 2004, but failed to obtain the minimum two percent of the total votes cast for party-lists for a seat in the House of Representatives. A party-list can win a maximum of three House seats.

It did not join the 2007 elections, and was delisted in 2010 by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

“It was a bent interpretation of the Comelec on the partylist system law that a partylist is no longer allowed to run if it had not won or participated in two succeeding elections,” Regalado said of the decision.

The Comelec however has again allowed Migrante to run in next year’s election.

“We have completed and complied with all requirements as provided by the law,” Regalado said.

The government estimates a total of 13 million overseas Filipinos, who remit at least $20 billion a year.  (Lorie Ann Cascaro/MindaNews)