There has been mounting frustration and disappointment among election officials and community leaders at the poor turnout of OFW voters in this election. So much so, that top Department of Foreign Affairs officials are mulling the idea of scrapping overseas absentee voting altogether if things don’t improve in the next presidential election in 2010.
This would be a big mistake and possibly an illegal one. Legally speaking, I don’t think the DFA or any other branch of the executive could single-handedly abolish the OAV. It would have to be an act of Congress, endorsed by the president, to be able to kill OAV since it was Congress that passed the original law allowing overseas Filipinos to participate in national elections in the first place.
In Saudi Arabia, where there are 127,945 registered voters (out of a total population of around 1 million Filipinos), only around 11,000 have voted so far. That is a measly 10 percent of an already small pool of 10 percent of the total number of Filipinos here in the Kingdom.
Many observers have noted that since this election is only for senators and party-list groups, OFWs have shown little interest in it. That may be true, but there has also been a distinct lack of any type of get-out the vote campaign by the Comelec here, either through ads in newspapers or on television. To make matters worse, voters’ lists have not been updated, so that many highly mobile OFWs find themselves this year not on the voters’ list in the city they work in because they moved since the last election in 2004.
Obviously, the Comelec cannot have extra-sensory powers to divine who has moved and to which area. Registered voters themselves should have updated their registrations last year when Philippine diplomatic missions were updating their voters’ lists and accepting new registrants. But there again, there was no public awareness campaign by Comelec to remind OFWs to update their registrations if they had moved.
So, I find it hard to believe that the Comelec has already spent P20 million on OAV since it was approved by Congress. Where has this money been spent? On ballots? For the salaries of the officials manning the polls abroad? A full accounting of how this money was spent would be greatly appreciated by all OFWs.
It is the right of all adult Filipinos to take part in elections, whether they live in the Philippines or work abroad. Given that roughly 10 million Filipinos live abroad, allowing them to vote in national elections is but natural. Since the Philippines is a democracy based on freedom, no one can really force OFWs to vote. But neither can the right to vote be taken away from them just because a few government officials are disappointed with this year’s poor turnout.
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Massive Cheating? Perhaps
DESPITE the slew of surveys showing the opposition winning a majority of the 12 Senate seats up for grabs on Monday, the Arroyo administration keeps insisting that its candidates are going to win the majority of the slots.
This insistence on a result that no survey supports makes one wonder: Just how is Team Unity going to achieve this? Through massive cheating is the only possible answer.
With a majority of administration candidates running unopposed on the provincial and local level, the Arroyo administration has a massive political machinery in place that is going to be only too willing to help them cheat in order to win the majority of the Senate seats.
Already the administration is backing out of controversial stands that could have left it open to charges of rigging the elections through fraud and intimidation.
Military troops have been pulled back from slum areas in Manila, after militant groups protested that there presence there on election day would intimidate voters into voting for Team Unity bets.
Former ARMM governor Nur Misuari has been freed from house arrest in order to campaign in Sulu where he is running for governor; detained anti-Arroyo coup plotter Navy Lt. Antonio Trillanes IV has been given access to the media, and opposition senatorial candidate Allan Peter Cayetano has been deemed a natural-born Filipino by the Comelec after doubts were raised by a pro-administration politician.
The government should have backtracked on all of these issues months ago, but obviously someone is giving them good governance advice and the Arroyo administration is listening to it.
If a majority of Team Unity candidates win Senate seats in a major upset prepare yourselves for a serious showdown with the opposition and the voting public. Such a result would not only be surprising but also illegal. Thwarting the public’s will so openly and brazenly would be a big mistake and would put into question the solidity of democracy in the Philippines.
If the results are always going to be so massively rigged to begin with, why even bother to hold elections to begin with? The pretence of a democratic exercise will be exposed for what it is: A sham that serves only to keep a dictatorial Arroyo and her political cronies in power.
The Philippines deserves better.