MANILA, Philippines - Sixty percent of the 737,759 registered absentee voters abroad are expected to cast their ballots when the month-long overseas absentee voting (OAV) starts today.
Commission on Elections (Comelec) records show 281,372 overseas absentee voters are in the Middle East, 228,309 in Asia, 125,604 in the US, 75,666 in Europe, and 26,808 are seafarers.
Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said absentee voting in Riyadh and Jeddah in Saudi Arabia will start on April 16.
Saudi Customs authorities have not yet released the ballot boxes to be used, he added.
Absentee voting in these two cities will not be extended, but polling centers will be open one hour more every day or from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Brillantes said.
Commissioner Lucenito Tagle, Committee on OAV chairman, said the expansion of the automated polls has encouraged more Filipinos abroad to vote.
In the 2010, voter turnout was less than 33 percent or 150,000 of the more than 500,000 registered voters, he added.
Tagle said the Comelec had printed an additional 20 percent of ballots for postal voting to allow Filipinos living far from Philippine diplomatic posts to participate in the elections.
â€œNow the entire America is postal voting,â€ he said. â€œThere are other areas where voters can cast their votes through post.â€
Tagle said the Comelec had also automated the elections in five more areas: Riyadh (53,396), Jeddah (30,238), Kuwait (30,238), Dubai (55,842) and Abu Dhabi (21.645).
â€œThe Comelec is actually looking forward to the automation of all Philippine posts in the coming elections,â€ he said.
In 2010, automated polls were implemented only in Hong Kong and Singapore (50,063).
In Singapore, the Comelec had made a special arrangement with embassy personnel supervising the elections to adjust the voting hours to 1-9 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends to adjust to the availability of voters.
Commissioner Elias Yusoph said Filipino workers abroad are mostly interested to vote but that their employers sometimes prevented them from going to polling precincts.
Migrant workers have the chance to vote on only four days â€“ usually on weekends on their days off â€“ in a month, he added.
Migrante fears that many OFWs would be disenfranchised when OAV starts today.
In a statement, Vicky Casia-Cabantac, Migrante Hong Kong chair, said she sees another disenfranchisement of OFWs since they only have nine PCOS machines, down from 22 in the 2010 elections.
â€œIt is therefore urgent that we vote as early as we can,â€ she said.
Migrante said as many as 900,000 OFWs might be unable to vote due to lack of ballots and other problems.
The Comelec printed only 20 percent of the ballots allocated for the total number of registered overseas absentee voters, Migrante added.
The Comelec also failed to come out with clear guidelines for OAV in countries where Philippine consulates and embassies have been closed down, Migrante said.
Cabantac said OFWs are set to win a seat in Congress through the MIGRANTE party-list.
â€œIf we have won many fights even without a seat in Congress, certainly we shall have more victories for the rights and welfare of our members and our families if we participate in this election,â€ she said.
â€œNow is our chance to have our own voice in Congress and in the Senate. Let us not waste this opportunity to change exploitative policies that have profited only the government and recruitment agencies.â€
Cabantac said the administration has imposed additional financial burden on OFWs like the mandatory travel insurance, mandatory Pag-IBIG, PhilHealth premium hike, and a host of other fees.
â€œRecently, we have gained victory with the lifting of the moratorium on departing household workers,â€ she said.
â€œOnce again, we have proven that our collective strength can bring about change in policies set by unscrupulous recruitment agencies in collaboration with government agencies.â€
Social media officer
Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano proposed yesterday the naming of a social media officer at Philippine embassies worldwide to coordinate with OFWs.
â€œMany of our OFWs now have netbooks and many of them are now on Facebook,â€ he said.
â€œOur government needs to adapt to them. Google is more than willing to help with this. We need a plantilla social media officer for OFWs.
â€œWe need to link all the Filipinos worldwide. Imagine if the agencies like the OWWA and the POEA could talk to our OFWs in real time, many of their problems could be solved.â€
Cayetano said if re-elected, he would push for laws and programs favorable to OFWs.
â€œThere are many OFWs who say they want to start a business but they do not have the funds,â€ he said.
â€œIn other countries, you can borrow money where the collateral needed is the idea for the business.â€ â€“ With Mayen Jaymalin, Mike Frialde