Press Release
November 6, 2012

Empowering OFWs Through The Ballot
(Sponsorship speech of Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III
05 November 2012)

Mr. President, as I deliver this sponsorship speech today as Chairman of the Committee on Electoral Reforms and People's Participation, thousands of Filipinos are mulling their economic options, and are choosing to vote with their feet, leaving our country for foreign destinations where jobs can be found.

Constitutional Mandate

It is a fundamental tenet of the Constitution that sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them (Article I, Section 1).

That sovereignty and that authority are - in a representative democracy like ours - vested upon our elected government officials through our people's exercise of the right of suffrage.

When the Constitution speaks of 'people', it means the Filipino people whether living inside or outside the country.

For our people living within the country, the mechanisms that enable them to exercise their right of suffrage are already in place. But for our people who are living abroad, the existing devices that are meant to enable them to do so are clearly inadequate. It is the intention of this bill to remedy that situation.

Still Filipino Citizens

After all, under our laws, our people do not lose their citizenship simply because they are out of the country. Hence, the exercise of their right as citizens to vote for their country's officials whose functions will affect their lives, their properties, their civil and political rights and those of the members of their families who live within the country must be given ample play and supported to the fullest extent possible.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), around 3,000 to 4,000 Filipinos leave our country each day to work abroad. They do so reluctantly, in search of better future for the families they have left behind.

We owe it to our overseas Filipino workers, Mr. President, to recognize and understand that their ties to the Philippines remain strong, and in fact, in most cases become even stronger, the moment they leave. Our OFWs send back an annual average of US$20 billion in remittances. They have become our single most reliable source of private and public sector revenues over the span of decades. Individually, each of these 10 million overseas workers have become the anchor of millions of Filipino households stretched from Aparri in the north to Bongao, Tawi-Tawi in southern Mindanao.

This representation humbly submits before this august chamber, in behalf of all Filipinos overseas, Senate Bill No. 3312 under Committee Report No. 446, titled, "An Act Amending Republic Act No. 9189 Otherwise Known as The Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003."

Ten times a million voices

Ladies and Gentlemen, first the good news. Upon the closing of the registration deadline, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) recorded the highest number of overseas absentee registrants since the Overseas Absentee Voting Law was enacted in 2003.

From 589,830 registrants in 2010, where only 153,323 or 25.99% actually voted, we now have 915,000 OAV applicants/registrants, the highest number so far in OAV history. Though shy of the one million (1,000,000) target that has been set by COMELEC and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), I am heartened by the enthusiastic response of our OFWs, and the teamwork between and among COMELEC, the DFA, all embassies and foreign posts, and the different Filipino community groups and non-government organizations.

Mr. President, I have no doubt in my mind that the desire among our OFWs to register and vote is there. The figures I cited above is tangible proof of this. But that desire must meet its match in a law that enables, rather than inhibits, the OFWs' right to suffrage.

In 2016, when Filipinos come together as one nation to decide on the next administration, one of our biggest legacies to voters around the world is an Overseas Absentee Voting Law that offers flexibility in terms of new technologies, removes documentary requirements that keep our citizens at arm's length from the ballot box, and one that seeks to create a permanent mechanism to promote a more efficient and effective electoral process for Filipinos overseas.

Mr. President, once this law is enacted, I hope that we will meet and surpass the 1-Million mark that the COMELEC and DFA have set for themselves since 2010. I am optimistic that ten times a million OAV votes may be possible in 2016 and beyond, with the enactment of SB 3312.

No more affidavits binding Filipinos to return in 3 years

Under Section 5 (d) of RA 9189 or the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003, an immigrant or a permanent resident must execute upon registration an affidavit prepared by the Commission on Elections declaring that he or she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than 3 years from approval of his or her registration.

This section, Mr. President, bears with it the threat of removal of the immigrant's or permanent resident's name from the National Registry of Absentee Voters if he or she indeed fails to return to the homeland within the three year period.

Yet, it is a matter or record that we have 2 million Filipinos living and working in the US and Canada as permanent residents or as immigrants. They are productive and patriotic citizens who have never failed to come to our country's side in times of natural disasters, and during periods of great political and economic trials.

In terms of remittances, Filipinos in the US contribute 43.1% out of the total amount of $20 billion. We also have Filipinos who combine study with work in Canada, Australia, in the US, New Zealand and in different parts of Europe. Some of them shall eventually opt to be permanent residents after they graduate there - a choice that we all must respect as part of the ebb tide and flow of human migration.

But, we have a culture among us - once a Filipino, always a fond eater of adobo. Our strong family ties extend beyond borders and with it comes the patriotism that springs from perpetually grateful and longing hearts.

That affidavit requiring overseas Filipinos to come back within three years or permanent deletion is a serious obstacle to our citizens' right to vote. It is a Sword of Damocles hovering above the heads of millions of permanent residents in the United States and Canada. In effect, Mr. President, that affidavit, which is a legal government document, shall not only be binding on the potential registrant but also on the future of their families as well.

And so, in this proposed measure, Mr. President, we have deleted that entire controversial provision. By doing so, we now give our Filipino brothers and sisters abroad the right of suffrage without any preconditions. They can keep cooking and eating adobo while abroad, and voting for their national candidates in the Philippines, without having the COMELEC and even the DFA looking over their shoulders.

Pinoy Comeback Kids can now also register and vote

Mr. President, as more Filipinos overseas discover for themselves that it is indeed more fun in the Philippines, we envision many of them to return home even before the twilight of their years.

Our proposed measure seeks to amend the law on Overseas Absentee Voting by allowing registration, and thereafter the exercise of the right to vote, for Filipinos who have reacquired and/or retained their Philippine Citizenship pursuant to Republic Act 9225. Their numbers are growing, and their interest in the future of our country remains high; and because of the Internet, many of them are very much aware about the track records of public servants in this hall and outside of it.

Easing the workload of the COMELEC through the RERB

Mr. President, the Commission on Elections cannot operationalize the Overseas Absentee Voting registration and elections from Manila and hope to get the best response. Since this is already enshrined in our law and is part of our national electoral system, it makes sense to invest in institutional mechanisms that would truly give life to the constitutional provision on absentee voting.

It is for this reason that our committee wishes to recommend the creation of a Resident Election Registration Board (RERB) to be situated in our posts abroad. The RERB shall have the power to deactivate, reactivate and/or cancel registration records.

The RERB shall be a three-person board composed of:

a. A career official of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) as chairperson; b. The most senior officer from the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) or any government agency of the Philippines maintaining offices abroad as member; and, c. A registered overseas voter of known probity, as member.

The Board in Manila shall hold office in the COMELEC premises in Intramuros, Manila. The RERB in Manila shall be composed of any senior official of the COMELEC as the chairperson and the two other members shall be from the DFA and the DOLE, whose rank shall not be lower than a division chief or its equivalent.

The RERB shall remove any ad hoc approaches to overseas absentee registration and voting systems and procedures here and overseas. It will also provide every post the institutional memory that such political exercises deserve. By creating such a board, we are removing any doubt on the long-term commitment of the State to and in the absentee voting exercise.

Lolo and Lola Techies in the Comelec

Mr. President, we used to take photos of our children with films bought over the counter and processed/developed by a company known as Kodak. Mobile phones, on the other hand, were only used for calls and sending text messages. Ngayon po sa makabagong panahon, ang ating mga telepono o cellular phones pwede nang mag-"click" at yung ating mga computer na ang taga-process at taga-tago ng ating mga litrato.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we shall be among those who shall miss flipping through the pages of Newsweek magazine. Nagpaalam na po ang Newsweek, hindi na siya ibebenta sa bookstore in printed form dahil mababasa na lamang siya sa Internet.

And as more Filipinos skip and "Skype" their way around the world, technological adaptibility has become an integral factor for good governance, whether on a parochial or global scale.

Our COMELEC deserves the same kind of adaptibility, because we cannot have institutions such as the COMELEC left behind by constituents that are more comfortable carrying tablets rather than chewing and swallowing them.

Mr. President, we ask through this measure that we authorize the Commission on Elections to adopt other systems or modes of registration and voting, whether paper-based, electronic-based, or internet-based, to attain the broadest and most effective way of enfranchising Filipinos overseas without compromising the secrecy and sanctity of the electoral process.

Ang mga seafarers po natin sa barko ay mas madaling maabot sa pamamagitan ng Internet dahil pagdaong ng barko sa lupa ay iilang oras lang ang nalalabi para hanapin nila ang pinakamalapit na embahada at consulado para magpa-rehistro o bumoto.

Ang mga kasambahay po natin sa Middle East ay pahirapan na pamgpaalam sa kanilang mga amo para umalis at bumoto. Pero ang bawat isa sa kanila ay maaaring makatanggap ng balota sa mismong bahay sa Saudi Arabia, sa Kuwait, at saan man sa Gitnang Silangan sa pamamagitan ng post office.

Our citizens spread out in different States in America would have to leave their State to go to the nearest Philippine Consulate or make that expensive trip to Washington, D.C. to register at the Philippine Embassy just to be able to vote in the next national elections.

Mr. President, given the economic tightrope that most foreign employers find themselves in, the flexibility accorded to our workers to make that invaluable land trip to the embassy is severely limited.

Let technology take up the slack, Mr. President. If we are to empower our workers overseas as voters, then we must also empower the COMELEC to find the best way to service the needs of our modern-day heroes.

Section 34, which is the new section that grants such authority to explore to COMELEC bears with it the safeguard that while the Commission may expore and adopt more efficient, reliable and secure modes or systems for onsite and remote registration and elections, it must still submit a report to the joint congressional oversight committee.

May poder pa rin po ang taongbayan sa pamamagitan ng Kongreso tungkol sa makabagong pamamaraan ng pagrehistro at pagboto ng mga kababayan natin sa labas ng bansa.

Mr. President, I know that a lot of our OFWs wish that the amendments to the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 were passed prior to the 2013 elections. To them, I say that the right of suffrage is so sacred a right that we need to make sure that we don't push the wrong amendments.

2016 is not that far away, Mr. President. Ten million votes, 10 million voices can decide the fate of the next administration. But that journey to a politically empowered OFW sector must begin now.

In that spirit, I ask the support of my fellow senators in passing Senate Bill No. 3312 under Committee Report No. 446 otherwise known as the "Act Amending the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003".

Salamat po!

News Latest News Feed