Overseas voters way off target

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — WITH only 11 days to go before overseas absentee voting ends on May 14, the Department of Foreign Affairs lamented that only a little more than 5 percent, or 25,650 worldwide, of those qualified to vote have cast their ballots as of Wednesday morning.

Foreign Affairs spokesman Claro Cristobal said the 5-percent turnout was way off the 65-percent target that the overseas absentee voting secretariat had expected and a far cry from the turnout in the last elections.

The secretariat had set a target of 65 percent, which was also the turnout during the 2004 presidential elections when the number of qualified voters numbered 364,000.

“The 65-percent voting turn out was just a goal. But I don’t think that is still attainable at the rate the absentee voting is going on,” said Ambassador Generoso Calonge, vice chairman of the overseas voting secretariat.

In this election, Calonge said, 504,110 Filipinos overseas registered for the absentee voting system, but only a handful have cast their ballots in various Philippine diplomatic missions abroad. “I doubt if we could even reach that percentage of voting this year,” Calonge added.

Calonge noticed two deterrents to a higher turnout: the immobility of Filipinos abroad and a provision in the absentee voting law that requires immigrants to execute an affidavit of their intent to return to Manila before they could vote.

Although authorities expect that many more Filipinos will draw on the last day of the overseas voting system, they admitted that the turnout would also likely show a large shortfall from the previous election.

Embassies and consulates abroad have been conducting an intensive information campaign to encourage Filipinos to vote, including the use of cellphone messages, Internet and distribution of leaflets and other information materials.

Cristobal said even companies where Filipinos worked are helping them by providing vehicles to ferry Filipinos to the voting places and bring them back to work.

Foreign affairs records show that Hong Kong still leads the number of voters with 5,302 voters, followed by Riyadh with 3,259; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with 1,792; and Alkobar, Saudi Arabia, with 1,747.

Cristobal has reiterated his appeal to the Filipino to cast their votes as soon as possible and exercise their political rights by voting.

“I believe that the information campaign being done by the embassies and consulates is contributing to the OAV,” Cristobal said.