Angara want changes in absentee voting

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Senator Edgardo Angara yesterday supported calls for amendments to the Overseas Absentee Voting Law to encourage more Filipinos abroad to participate in the elections.

Speaking at the weekly forum “Kapihan sa Senado” Angara said the requirement for the expatriate Filipino to execute an affidavit of intent to return, as well as Congress’ refusal to authorize voting by mail were “damaging” to the implementation of the law.

As of Monday, only 735 Filipinos abroad out of half-a-million registered voters have cast their ballots since overseas voting began Saturday.

Commission on Elections officials said the low turnout was likely due to the requirement for an affidavit of intent to return to the Philippines as well as the “last-minute syndrome.”

In a related development, senatorial candidate Vicente Sotto III said that while the overseas vote is significant, Team Unity does not need to conduct campaign sorties abroad because of advances in technology.

Angara noted that especially for Filipinos based in North America, the affidavit of intention to return to the Philippines makes voters wary because it could be evidence of their abandonment of their resident or “green card” status in the United States or Canada.

In the original version of the law, Angara also said there was resistance to using the mail for registering as voter and for voting, although as a compromise he was able to get three countries—namely Canada, England and Japan—where voting by mail is allowed.

The OAV requirement to register and vote in Philippine consulates is also another turn-off, according to Angara.

“If you are in Iowa, your nearest consulate is two hours by plane to Chicago—you can imagine, two hours away, you would spend around $700 and you’d be away from your job just to register. When you vote, you’d lose another day,” Angara said.

If the reports are true that the Comelec has allowed voting by mail in several other countries, Angara said that is a “good development.”

Based on Comelec rules, Filipinos worldwide are allowed now to vote by mail except those residing in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Hong Kong, Macau, Greece, Northern Marianas Islands, Kuwait, China, Vietnam, Libya, Lebanon, Laos, Myanmar, India, Papua New Guinea, Jordan, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Palau.

Former presidential chief of staff Michael Defensor, another TU senatorial bet, said the OAV turnout could increase if Internet voting is allowed.

But Defensor said any Internet voting should be accompanied with appropriate safeguards against fraud, like the use of a personal identification number which voters may use to access the Comelec Web site to cast their votes.

If only the half-a-million registered absentee voters would cast their votes, they could elect between three to four senators, and could even determine the outcome of a presidential election, according to Angara.

Despite the significance of the overseas vote, Sotto said Team Unity decided not to campaign abroad.

“First, it would be very costly. Secondly, we feel that because of technology, we could reach the Filipinos abroad through television and radio programs,” Sotto said in a radio interview.

But because of the low OAV turnout, other candidates such as Ralph Recto and Tessie Aquino Oreta appealed to Filipino migrant workers to exercise their right to vote.

“I appeal to them to make a wise choice, only those candidates who have hearts and compassion deserve their votes,” Recto said.

“While it could inconvenience them [OFW] because they are busy earning a living, I hope they would vote and participate in the electoral process,” Oreta said.

Earlier, Senator Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate committee on constitutional amendments, revision of codes and laws, said low turnout was due to the failure of the poll body to conduct an aggressive information campaign to encourage migrant workers to cast their votes.