OFWs Disappointed Over Conduct Of Overseas Absentee Voting

MANILA — Filipinos in Hongkong expressed their dismay over the use of non-indelible ink during the overseas absentee voting, which started on April 13.

“We are not only disenfranchised in this election, but also discriminated. Our right to vote is being shortchanged,” Eman Villanueva, third nominee of Migrante Partylist who is based in Hongkong, said.

The overseas absentee voting was first implemented in 2004 to reach out to Filipinos residing and working abroad. But, Migrante Partylist said, the lack of support by the previous and current administrations “to ensure the maximum participation of OFWs in the election has disenfranchised many Filipinos of their right to suffrage.”

The OAV for the 2013 midterm election started last April 13.

According to Villanueva, Filipino voters in Hongkong were “caught completely off-guard” because they were expecting that they would be marked with the indelible ink. He said the said mark is “an assurance of the safety of their vote and also an indelible symbol that (he or she) has exercised her right to vote.”

“We are afraid that such arbitrary shortcut to the voting steps shall open the process to possible fraudulent acts and there was no alternative way instituted to ensure the security of our votes,” he added.

Aside from the absence of indelible inks, Filipinos in Hongkong also found no security locks on the PCOS machines.

“We are outraged. The conduct and safety measures of the elections, especially the OAV process, were set precisely to prevent possible fraudulent acts and to secure the sanctity of our votes. We fear that such arbitrary changes will make the OAV vulnerable to fraud and endanger the very outcome of the OAV,” Connie Bragas-Regalado, president and first nominee of Migrante Partylist, said.

“We demand an explanation from the Comelec for this offensive anomaly. Why did the Comelec allow this? Does it reflect how they are belittling the votes of Filipinos overseas?” she said.

Comelec chairman Sixto Brilliantes Jr., for his part, said putting the indelible mark would be unnecessary because the voting period would last for 30 days.

“If you put an indelible ink to a flying voter, the ink will last for several days only. So it will be useless since this is not a one day voting period,” he said in media reports.

In a separate report, Brilliantes said the use of indelible ink would be impractical.

He added that due to budget constraints, the Comelec did not increase the number of PCOS machines overseas despite the increase in the number of registered voters.

“The purchase is very limited. We didn’t buy additional machines. We are using the same PCOS machines we used in 2010. There was an increase in the number of registered voters in the Philippines,” Brilliantes said.

Villanueva, however, said Filipinos there only got more disappointed when Brilliantes admitted that budget considerations made it do away with the use of the ink and even the locks for the machines.

“The COMELEC was candid in saying that politicians in the Philippines are not keen on increasing the budget for the OAV. But on the other hand, chairman Brillantes, also pointed out that the low turnout in voters does not make policymakers keen in upping the budget allocation for OAV. To subject the right of Filipino citizens abroad to the interest, whims and caprices of politicians is not only preposterous but downright wrong,” Villanueva added.

Low turnout not OFWs’ fault

Villanueva said the turnout of voters of Filipinos abroad would depend on “the structures in place and the system implemented.” In Hongkong, only nine PCOS machines were sent to scan and record the votes of more than 122,000 registered voters.

“Never has the OAV been provided with sufficient funds to ensure the maximum participation of OFWs. Now, they are passing on the ball to us as if the individual’s choice to vote is the main reason for the low turnout of voters and not the failure of the COMELEC and the government to provide the right conditions for OFWs to practice our right of suffrage,” he said.

Migrante Partylist and other migrants groups in Hongkong, he added, are actively encouraging fellow Filipinos to vote. But, “the failure of the system in place has always been the biggest single stumbling block in making OFWs go out and vote. If the system that does not let OAV to flourish persists, then the OAV is doomed to obscurity and will worsen the violation of our rights as overseas Filipinos.”

In fact, as early as the registration period, Regalado noted, the Comelec has been projecting that not all registered Filipinos would cast their votes.

“By doing so, the Comelec is practically discouraging our overseas Filipinos from exercising their right to vote. They are saying, in so many words, that the massive disenfranchisement of registered overseas voters is fine and acceptable.”

Be vigilant

Despite these problems that Filipino overseas are facing, Regalado called on them to remain vigilant. Migrante coordinators and poll watchers, she said, are manning poll centers to guard the votes of OFWs.

“Migrante Sectoral Party – Hong Kong shall strive to encourage the most number of OFWs to participate in the OAV. Come election time in the Philippines a month from now, we shall also ensure that our voting family members will carry our agenda and interest as they march to their voting precincts,” the group said in a statement. (Bulatlat.com)

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