Press Release
January 28, 2013

Senate amends overseas absentee voting

The Senate today approved on final reading a bill amending the Overseas Absentee Voting Act by removing the requirement on Filipino immigrants abroad to execute an affidavit stating that they will return to the Philippines in three years time before they are allowed to vote in absentia.

"The affidavit requiring overseas Filipinos to come back within three years or face permanent deletion from the Comelec registry is a serious obstacle to our citizens' right to vote. 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," Sen. Koko Pimentel, chair of the Committee on Electoral Reforms, said.

Pimentel, sponsor of Senate Bill No. 3312, said Filipinos who have reacquired and/or retained their Philippine citizenship can participate in Philippine elections once the proposed measure is enacted into law.

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

The provision, he explained, bears a threat of removal from the immigrant's or permanent resident's name from the National Registry of Absentee Voters if he or she fails to return to the Philippines within the prescribed period.

From 589,830 registrants in 2010, where only 153,323 or 25% actually voted, Pimentel said, there are 915,000 Overseas Absentee Voting (OVA) applicants today. The number, he said, is expected to increase once the condition on the execution of affidavit is removed.

"Once this law is enacted, I hope that we will meet and surpass the one-million mark that the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have set for themselves since 2010," Pimentel said, adding:

"I am optimistic that ten times a million OAV votes may be possible in 2016 and beyond, with the enactment of Senate Bill 3312." Under the proposed legislation, Pimentel recommended the creation of a Resident Election Registration Board (RERB) to be posted abroad. The RERB will have the power to approve, disapprove, deactivate, reactivate and/or cancel registration records.

He said the RERB shall be composed of a career official of the DFA as chairperson, 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 a registered overseas voter of known probity as member.

"2016 is not far away. Ten million voters, 10 million voices can decide the fate of the next administration. But that journey to politically empower the OFW sector must begin now," Pimentel said. Also approved on third and final reading was a resolution declaring Oct. 8 as a national special working holiday to commemorate the Dial del Galleon. Sen. Edgardo Angara, author and sponsor of Joint Resolution No. 12, said the celebration of the Dia del Galleon will resurrect the Philippines' long and fruitful ties with the Ibero-American countries which the galleon trade had forged and will pay tribute to its roots. According to Angara, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) had passed a similar resolution declaring Oct. 8 as the Dia del Galleon, noting that for 250 years, the galleons plying the Manila and Acapulco linked Asia with America, Europe and even Africa. The Unesco resolution also noted that the galleons had not only acted as carriers of trade but also as transmitters of cultures. He said the Director General of the Unesco had lauded the Philippines for organizing the Dia Del Galeon festival this year and for arranging the arrival of the replica of the Andalucia Galleon at the Manila Bay. "The trade routes gave the Philippines a place in world history like no other economic feature of the country while trade products such as ylang-ylang, abaca, the barong tagalog, sampaloc, achuete, avocado and cacao," Angara said. (PILAR S. MACROHON)

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