Press Release
November 6, 2012


The Senate is set to pass landmark amendments to the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Act that would make online voting for overseas Filipinos a reality, Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III said today.

This as Pimentel sponsored today a bill amending the OAV Act which was prepared and signed by members of the Senate Committee on Electoral Reforms and Peoples' Participation which he chairs.

He said that under the amended OAV Act, "the participation of overseas Filipinos in the election of national officials would be as easy as their turning on their computers and connecting to the Internet to register or to vote."

"That is as opposed to maybe absenting themselves from work, in the case of OFWs, in order to go to our Philippine embassies and consulates designated as registration or voting centers," Pimentel pointed out.

The amended OAV Act would empower the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to adopt automated election systems, whether paper-based, electronic-based or Internet-based technology, the Mindanao solon said.

Pimentel revealed that with the amended OAV Act, "voting may be done either personally or by mail or by any other means" as may be determined by the Comelec which was mandated to facilitate "remote registration and elections."

He cited the urgent need to rework the original OAV Act passed in 2003 to remove the obstacles that stop many overseas Filipinos from registering and actually voting in Philippine embassies and consulates. A similar bill (HB 6542) amending the OAV had been passed by the House of Representatives.

"The Philippines has one of the largest populations of overseas workers worldwide. Yet the sad reality is that we have one of the lowest numbers of registered OAVs among countries that allow overseas voting," said Pimentel.

"In 2010, there were less than 600,000 registered overseas absentee voters and only 26 percent of that number was able to vote. We do not want to reinvent the wheel or be afraid of using new technologies and methods to enfranchise our OFWs," he stressed.

A number of organizations representing overseas Filipinos have clamored for the repeal of Section 5d of the OAV, as well as the establishment of online registration and voting. Among these groups are the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), the International Coalition for Overseas Filipinos (ICOFVR) and the US Pinoys for Good Governance.

Pimentel said that OFWs play a big role in keeping the Philippine economy afloat with "an annual average of US$20 billion in remittances" as the single most reliable source of private and public sectors 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," he said.

The bill also seeks to repeal Section 5 (d) of the OAV Act which states than an immigrant or a permanent resident must execute upon registration an affidavit prepared by the Comelec 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.

"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. In terms of remittances, Filipinos in the US contribute 43.1% out of the total amount of $20 billion," said Pimentel.

"That affidavit requiring overseas Filipinos to come back within three years or else 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, 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," stressed Pimentel.

The senator said he doesn't subscribe to the view that "apathy" has to do with low voter turnout under the OAV. In 2010, there were less than 600,000 registered OAVs of which only 26 percent actually voted.

"OFWs complain that it is very difficult for them to get to the embassy or consulate designated as voting centers because these are sometimes too far from them, thereby entailing time and monetary costs to them," said Pimentel.

He noted that some workers, especially those belonging to the household sectors, have not been allowed by their employers to take a day off to go to the embassies and consulates to register.

Pimentel added that whereas elections are official non-working holidays in the Philippines, other countries do not allow OFWs to take the same day off. This, he said, is one other obstacle to getting more OFWs to vote.

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