On overseas Filipinos’ right to vote

THE media, nowadays, is buzzing with talks on overseas Filipinos’ right to vote – and this, despite the more glaring news of one newly-elected senator’s alleged involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering activities and the recent attempt to establish the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) by way of a plebiscite, has made well-known newspaper columnists to feast on the subject.

The current frenzy has actually been fired off by Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s mention, in her first State of the Nation Address or SONA, of the overseas Filipinos’ right to suffrage. In that July 23, 2001 feisty address, she asked the 12th Congress to enact a law allowing the overseas Filipinos to vote.

It is indeed ironic that in such a democratic country as the Philippines, one sector, comprising seven million qualified voters – the overseas Filipinos – has been left out in the exercise of one of the fundamental rights of her citizenry. It is not that the overseas Filipinos, per se, are not allowed to vote. They are, of course, but the mechanism to put their right into action has never been concretized since the amendment of the Philippine Constitution in 1987. Article IV, Section 2 of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines states:

“The Congress shall provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.”

To those of us overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who have been unaware – after all we are far away from the country and too busy earning a living – of the goings-on in the process of passing or enacting laws that would govern our motherland Philippines, the first question which comes to mind, once confronted with the above-given fact, is: “What the hell have those elected lawmakers been doing all this time?” For it is now 14 years, indeed, since the Constitution provided that absentee voting right to the overseas Filipinos and how come only now a President is vocally asking the Congress to enact a law? Something is really wrong in here!

Certain members of both the House of Representatives and Senate, of course, have authored a number of Absentee Voting (AV) bills in the past, with President Macapagal-Arroyo, herself, at one time, proposing a similar one to the Senate. Some got read and deliberated upon, like the House Bill 10720 and Senate Bill 1746, which have almost reached the last stage preparatory to final enactment by the 11th Congress. The early events leading to former President Estrada’s removal from Malacanang, accordingly, have prevented the proposed bills to be enacted into law. Campaigners then were eyeing for the May 2001 elections to be the first of those voting exercises to be enjoyed by overseas Filipinos.

The overseas Filipinos, themselves, have been actively working on their fundamental right to suffrage. The first group to be recognized as relentless campaigners of the AV bills is Europe-based Platform of Filipino Migrant Organisations in Europe or simply Platform. Its member organizations originate from Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Greece, The Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Ireland.

In August 1998, the group sent 20 representatives to the Philippines in what it termed as “Platform Advocacy Delegation Visit to the Philippines” and successfully held dialogues with then President Estrada, members of the House of Representatives and Senate and a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Presented by the group was its “Migrant Agenda” with absentee voting as one of its concerns. This was repeated in August 2000.

This year, specifically on August 19 to 23, an “Overseas Filipinos Advocacy Visit to the Philippines 2001” will unfold, ably organized by Platform in cooperation this time with EMPOWER-The Global Campaign on Overseas Voting and the Philippine-based eLagda, Inc. and KAKAMMPI or Kapisanan ng mga Kamag-anak ng Migranteng Manggagawang Pilipino. The delegation, comprising over 50 overseas Filipinos from Europe, America, Middle East and Asian countries, will, foremost, seek public commitment or official pronouncement from President Macapagal-Arroyo and the 12th Congress for immediate legislation on the Overseas Voting. A one-day forum is scheduled just to discuss about this voting right and non-participating overseas Filipinos are urged to join by way of sending emails or texts to KAKAMMPI officials.

On the Internet, which is now the OFWs’ fastest link to their families and friends back home and abroad, electronic lists or groups and mails also abound with the subject and other matters pertaining to eventual passing of AV bills. Sentiments range from aggressive pronouncements to complacent or non-committal stance among overseas Filipinos, and everyday, more and more people are being caught up in the on-going discussions.

One such body is the OFW-Vote, one of Overseas Filipinos Worldwide’s community of lists. As early as now, plans are being discussed on how the actual electoral process will be conducted, that is, in preparation for the May 2004 elections. Serving as its main campaign in reaching all the overseas Filipino citizens, the Overseas Filipinos Worldwide has sent out, early this year, a Petition Letter which is currently going around.

OFW-Suite101 is joining the campaign and I would like to encourage readers and supporters of this OFW topic to sign the Petition (as presented below) and to spread the word around. Overseas Filipinos are also encouraged to join the main OFW-Vote mailing list and the fast-sprouting geographical links, and become a part of a working group which will later on be established in specific voting areas abroad. To join, please go to Overseas Filipinos Worldwide.

Nothing can stop us now to enjoy our only right to become active players in the affairs of our beloved country. Let us not just be hailed as economic saviors, or modern-day heroes, let us also, and most importantly, be taken seriously this time by our country’s leaders and lawmakers! Let us not rest until we get that right to suffrage. It is high time that we choose those who we believe are best able to look after our affairs, as well as those of our loved ones!


PETITION LETTER OF OVERSEAS FILIPINOS TO THE PHILIPPINE GOVERNMENT ON OUR RIGHT TO VOTE

WE, Filipinos working outside the Philippines, strongly urge President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, members of the Administration Party, the Opposition and all prospective Legislators in the 12th Congress, to prioritize and ensure the passage of a law that will allow us to exercise our inalienable right to vote, a right that is enshrined in the 1987 Philippine Constitution.

The Philippine Congress has, in fact, been mandated by the Constitution to pass a law enabling overseas Filipinos to participate in electing officials that would run our country. Article V, Section 2 states that “Congress shall provide a system for securing the secrecy and sanctity of the ballot as well as a system for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.”

In this age of a globalized economy, we have made our mark in the world as “internationally shared human resources.” We have certainly made our mark in the Philippine economy: in 1999 alone our remittances totaled $7 billion, an amount equivalent to a fifth of the country’s total export earnings for that year. For this we have been hailed as “modern-day heroes” by politicians and the media.

But we find this to be little more than empty rhetoric. The reality is that we are forced by economic circumstances to labor far from home, to save our families from poverty and starvation.

The Philippine Government, meanwhile, profits from the sweat of our toil through the billions of dollars generated annually from our remittances and fees. And yet no clear mechanism exists to ensure the protection and promotion of our rights as migrant workers. This fact alone, if nothing else, makes it imperative for the Philippine Government to hasten the process in all government levels to ensure that we may exercise our right to vote in the soonest time possible.

We demand that Congress deliberate and approve an enabling law for Absentee Voting at the earliest possible opportunity. We also demand that the appropriate government bodies, OFW representation, and Congress ensure that our voices are heard regarding issues we face as overseas Filipino workers.

OUR CALL TO ACTION: We cannot allow the government who calls us “modern-day heroes” to continue to deprive us of this very basic right. We want this May Elections to be the last time we will be denied our right to Suffrage. Although the next election is still three years away, passing an enabling law is just the first step in making this a reality. There is still a lot of work to be done.

Signed:

Special request from Overseas Filipinos Worldwide: PLEASE COPY this on to a new email message, sign the bottom (NAME, EMAIL, ORGANIZATION (if any) and LOCATION, and forward it to everyone on your distribution lists. If you receive this list with more than 100 names on it, please e-mail a copy of it to: OFW-Vote@yahoogroups.com or OFW-Vote-owner@yahoogroups.com

(Send after every 100 names.) Even if you decide not to sign, please be considerate and do not kill the petition. We will be running this petition until December 8, 2001.

 

Author: Freda Editha O. Contreras
Published on: August 17, 2001

 

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