Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Forum with Stakeholders to Assess the 2013 Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Exercise

Report from CMA

Last July 10, 2013 Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and supported by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), conducted an assessment forum on the Overseas Absentee Voting exercise in the last election. Of the registered voters abroad, only 15.35% actually voted, the lowest turn-out since the OAV exercises started in 2004. The objectives of the forum were to find out why this happened and to gather recommendations to improve the system.

In her opening remarks Karen Gomez-Dumpit, Director of Government Linkages of CHR, said that the Commission also covers Filipinos residing and working abroad. She concluded with a commitment of creating  an enabling environment for all the Filipinos to practice their right to vote within and outside the country. CHR Chairperson and principal author of OAV, Etta Rosales, was also there to welcome the participants.

Berthold Leimbach, the FES resident representative, stressed that the assessment is a timely and important initiative, also reiterating that voting is a civil right. He encouraged the participants to make suggestions for OFWs to participate in the exercise and in improving the exercise as a whole.
 Assessment of OAV 2013

CMA Executive Director Ellene Sana relayed feedbacks from OFWs all over the world. The trending reasons for the low turn-out are the following: Disillusionment and Apathy, Inaccessibility of Polling Precincts, Aggravating Circumstances, Wrong Addresses on Postal Packets, Lack of Information, Weak FSP-FILCOM Collaboration, Outdated Comelec Registration Records, and Limited Suffrage and Limited Stakeholding.  Addressing these issues OFWs made recommendations: online voting, field voting in industrial areas, free transportation for far away precincts, less complicated registration process, improvement of Comelec infrastructure, improvement of information campaign and the amendment of the OV law.

Daphne Ceniza-Kuok, representative of ICOFVR in Hong Kong, offered some positive feedback. In Hong Kong, the voter turn-out increased by 10,000 votes. The consulate was able to devise creative ways to encourage Filipinos to vote despite the lack of funding. The utilization of social media for information dissemination worked and because of the support of Philippines business entities and volunteers, OAV in Hong Kong went relatively smoothly.  She concluded that “the flaws in OAV are a reflection on how the government fails to provide for OFWs”.

Atty. Henry Rojas, the CMA legal counsel, was the next speaker to assess the recently concluded OAV exercise.  According to him, the first OAV in 2004 had a 65% turn-out. In 2007, a resident electoral board was created. Field and mobile registrations were introduced and there was a transition from personal voting to postal voting. Atty. Roxas proposed additional aspects to be raised for further changes like issues in postal voting, effectivity of different registration processes, Comelec budget for information dissemination, and community involvement. Further research and studies on these aspects, he states, might help in improving the exercise.


Representatives from Comelec and DFA were invited to respond on the issues raised by the OFWs. The Comelec representative failed to attend but was able to send a PowerPoint presentation for their assessment of OAV 2013. According to the presentation, every stakeholder contributed to the low-turn-out; the voters’ apathy and disillusionment, and their failure to give correct and complete addresses, Comelec’s administrative and operational limitations, minimal information campaign and limited budget, DFA’s OAV arm’s administrative and operational limitations, and their post’s limited manpower and support, and finally, the NGOs’ waning support.

DFA-OAVS’s Edgardo Castro recognizes the importance in making others understand that OAV is a work in progress and is still in its infancy. For him, the low turn-out, is attributed to OFW’s mobility, political apathy, distance and cost, non-presidential election, complicated voting instructions, unreliable postal service, and OFWs’ change in citizenship. He also explained  that election management is not DFA’s core competencies. It also doesn’t help that DFA operates on a limited budget and a limited number of personnel which hasn’t been increased in 20 years. Among the participants comments were: the turn-out was also affected by the weak relations of Comelec and DFA, OAV exercises in other countries have a less complicated process thus resulting to positive outcomes (e.g. Italy), the OAV is not a work in progress but actually a work in regress.

Steps Forward 2016

Imelda Apostol, Foreign Affairs House of Representatives, gave a review of amendatory provisions of RA 10590 (an act amending republic act no. 9189). CMA’s Ellene Sana presented the PMRW 10-pt migrant agenda for the 16th congress. In the open forum several suggestions and recommendations were given by the participants.

In response to the agenda, Atty. Eulogia, Angkla Partylist counsel, presented their own plans.  A house bill is proposed that will make Marina the agency for maritime labourers, part of this is creating a special program for seafarers and creating a maritime high school adhering to the K-12 educational program. Angkla is also currently working on seafarers’ registration and certification, a seafarer bank and the Magna Carta for seafarers.

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