April 23, 2022
On Thursday, April 21 OFWs and migrant leaders belonging to various groups from the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Canada, United States and the Middle East held an online dialogue with COMELEC Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, together with COMELEC Director for the Office for Overseas Voting Ms. Sonia Bea Wee-Lozada to raise serious concerns and issues about the COMELEC’s conduct of the overseas voting process that could lead to the disenfranchisement of thousands of overseas Filipino voters.
During the three-hour long dialogue, the migrant leaders lamented COMELEC’s late preparations and the slashing of the budget allotted for the overseas voting efforts that have caused extreme delays in the transmission of ballots and election materials to the Philippine consulates and embassies, lack of Vote Counting Machines, and the lack of proactive consultation and outreach to the Filipino community to adequately prepare overseas Filipino voters for the election.
With less than three weeks remaining until May 9, overseas Filipino voters have expressed frustration and dismay because many have yet to receive their ballots, while many ballots have been returned back because of incorrect mailing addresses. At the start of overseas voting on April 10, Philippine Posts in the US, Canada, Japan, Italy, and Australia were still in the process of sorting and mailing out ballots while many ballots were still in transit to the posts. Meanwhile, due to the limited number of Vote Counting Machines, polling precincts and field-mobile voting to accommodate large number of voters, migrant leaders in Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia expressed concerns over migrant workers having to wait an average of 4-6 hours in line with no protection from the harsh weather conditions. In Hong Kong, 2 vote counting machines have already stopped working.
Moreover, migrant leaders reported observations of clear election offenses in South Korea and in the Middle East where voters were wearing Marcos campaign T-shirts inside the polling places or campaigning very near the posts but were ignored by the SBEIs.
Citing the restrictions brought about by the pandemic and the extension of the voter registration deadline as the reasons for the delays in transporting election materials, Commissioner Casquejo explained that COMELEC experienced challenges in shipping the ballots and election materials and added that there is a lack of contingency Vote Counting Machines in the event that there is malfunction. Furthermore, he added that cases can be filed against those who commit election offenses. Commissioner Casquejo and Director Lozada committed to call the attention of the respective Philippine posts where the concerns and issues are being raised.
The migrant leaders challenged COMELEC to investigate the realities faced by overseas Filipino voters on the ground and listen to the challenges they are facing, instead of one-sidedly accepting the statements released by officials in our consulates and embassies, further urging COMELEC to check with the Philippine posts on the conduct of overseas voting and information dissemination to ensure important memos and advisories released by COMELEC are reaching overseas voters.
Criticizing the Duterte Government’s actions in significantly reducing the budget requested by COMELEC for overseas voting from 800 million to 111 million pesos as a significant factor in the problems presently facing our overseas voters, the migrant leaders vowed to proactively ensure the integrity of the 2022 election and pledged to defend the right of suffrage of every Filipino overseas voter.