On eve of 1st day of OAV, OFWs called upon to be vigilant, report anomalies

On the eve of the start of the voting period for overseas absentee voting, Migrante Partylist called on overseas Filipinos to be vigilant and immediately report anomalies that may result in the disenfranchisement of at least 900,000 overseas absentee voters.

Overseas absentee voting will start worldwide from tomorrow, April 13, and will run until May 13.

Earlier, Migrante Partylist criticized the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for apparently preparing the recipe for its imminent failure. Among the grievances cited by OFWs worldwide include,

–          The non-printing of enough ballots for overseas absentee voters. The Comelec decided not to print additional ballots after it had recently reinstated 238,557 OAVs that it delisted earlier. In its latest resolution, the Comelec only resolved to print an additional 20 percent of ballots allocated for the total number of registered OAVs.

–          The lack of clear guidelines for OAVs situated in countries where consulates and embassies closed down. While the Comelec released Resolution No. 9654 instructing Comelec officials in said posts, there are no clear guidelines or instructions for affected OAVs. Last year, at least 10 consulates and embassies closed down as a result of the Aquino government’s “austerity measures”. Migrante Partylist had earlier pointed out that the closures will greatly affect the OAV because consulates and embassies serve as polling precincts for Filipino voters abroad.

–          Lack of PCOS machines for countries where that will implement the Automated Electoral System (AES). The Comelec added countries for the AES but did not provide sufficient numbers of PCOS machines. Countries that will implement the AES are Hong Kong, Singapore, Abu Dhabi, some states in the US, some regions in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Vancouver in Canada, Instead of providing additional PCOS machines, what the Comelec did was to transfer existing PCOS machines from one country to the other. For instance, Hong Kong which had 22 PCOS machines during the 2010 elections now only has 9 PCOS machines left.

–          Lack of accessible and/or satellite polling precincts for OAVs. Notwithstanding embassies and consulates that has closed down, there is still an insufficient number of polling places for the 900,000 registered OAVs which are scattered all over the world. For instance, in some parts of the Middle East, each OFW has to spend as much as P20,000 for transportation costs to go to polling centers. There is also the practical problem of having to obtain an extra day-off or holiday to register as OFWs usually have weekends off, when registration centers are closed.

–          For postal voting, it is not clear if the Comelec updated its list of addresses of OAVs. As in the past, registered OAVs have complained that they were not able to receive their ballots through postal mail and were thus deprived of their rights to vote.

According to Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Partylist chairperson and 1st nominee, these problems all boil down to “the Aquino government’s dismal budget allocation for the OAV and the Comelec’s general attitude of belittlement of the expected OAV turnout.”

Budget allocation for the OAV did not increase since 2010.

“Also, since registration period started, the Comelec has been projecting that not all registered OAVs will cast their votes. By doing so, the Comelec is practically discouraging our OFWs from exercising their right to cast their ballots. They are saying, in so many words, that massive disenfranchisement of OAVs is fine and acceptable,” she said.

Bragas-Regalado called on OFWs to be vigilant as voting period for the OAV kicks off. She said that Migrante coordinators and pollwatchers worldwide will be manning polling centers to guard OFW votes starting tomorrow. ###