For lack of ‘better candidates,’ Pinoys in Paris go for GMA, Roco

- Marichu A. Villanueva -
PARIS — You could call it candidacy by default.

Since overseas Filipino workers here lack information on the other possible presidential candidates for the 2004 national elections, they have expressed a preference for President Arroyo as their choice to run the government.

Former education secretary Raul Roco comes in a strong second on the list of possible choices by OFWs.

These were the results of an informal and random survey conducted by the Philippine media delegation among the OFWs who have registered for the Philippines’ first absentee voting exercise at the Philippine embassy in Paris.

A quick question-and-answer survey conducted by the media among the OFW registrants showed that most of them could not answer the question of who they would vote for as President if they are not given a choice of candidates.

Five randomly selected OFWs, when presented with a list of possible 2004 presidential candidates, said they would choose opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson, businessman Eduardo Cojuangco or action movie king Fernando Poe Jr. Two to three other OFWs, when presented with this list, selected the President, while two others selected Roco and one OFW remained undecided.

The President had declared on Dec. 30, 2002 that she will not run in the 2004 presidential derby. She has not indicated, one way or another, whether she will recant that vow, even as she made brief interactions with representatives of Filipino communities during her trips to the Vatican in Italy, New York and Paris.

Mrs. Arroyo never mentioned the 2004 elections during her brief remarks at the United Nations headquarters in New York, where she touched base with some 300 Filipinos working for the world body Friday. Instead she paid tribute to the contributions made by the agency’s Filipino staff to peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts after her speech before the 58th General Assembly of the UN.

Likewise, the President did not make any campaign pitches when she met with the Filipino staff of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at the agency’s Paris headquarters during its 32nd General Assembly.

Mrs. Arroyo, a devout Roman Catholic, told Philippine media and Rome-based Filipino reporters that her "discernment" of God’s plans for her is a personal and "spiritual practice."

"If ever I make a different decision from (the one) I made last December, I will announce it promptly," she said before a forum of American businessmen in New York Friday, when asked about her plans for the coming elections. "Let me just say all my decisions are always in the light of what I believe is better."

The President stopped short of accusing her critics of committing blasphemy for attacking her over her statement that she relies on "divine guidance" throughout much of her decision-making processes and for picking on what they say is her change of heart over the matter of throwing her hat into the presidential arena come 2004.

She wryly remarked that she has heard of the plans of her partymates in the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats to make a major announcement when the Lakas-CMD’s national executive directorate meets on Oct. 7. The ruling party earlier bared plans to announce its standard-bearer by then — plans on which the President refused to comment.

Mrs. Arroyo will be out of the country on Oct. 7, when she attends the 7th Informal Leaders’ Summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Bali, Indonesia.
Legal Or Not, Here They Come
Meanwhile, even undocumented OFWs did not pass up the chance of availing of the right of suffrage provided them under the Overseas Absentee Voting Law, also known as Republic Act 9189.

While they were initially hesitant to register because of their status are illegal aliens, some brave souls decided to register under RA 9189 at the Philippine mission here.

Philippine Ambassador to France Hector Villaroel said they have sent word to the Filipino community that undocumented OFWs are not disqualified from registering under the absentee voting law.

Under RA 9189, registered OFWs and overseas Filipinos who have not lost their Filipino citizenship aged 18 and above may vote for their choices of president, vice president, senators and party-list representatives to the House of Representatives.

While the worldwide figures for voter registration under RA 9189 were recorded as very low by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Villaroel noted that the registration of overseas Filipino voters in Paris was "fairly" good, with a registrant turnout estimated at 20,000 to 25,000.

Before leaving Paris Monday, the President met with 40 leaders of OFW groups in France to remind them of the overseas Filipino voters’ registration, the last day of which was Tuesday.

Villaroel said at least 1,000 OFWs trooped to the Philippine embassy at No. 4 Hameau de Boulainvilliers to beat the Tuesday deadline for voter registration.

Nine officials of the Philippine diplomatic mission led by embassy First Secretary Josefina Estrada were designated as Comelec representatives. They assisted OFWs throughout the registration process. Embassy officials also assured undocumented OFWs and those working in France illegally that their immigration status would not be compromised by their registration as voters under RA 9189.

"Their illegal immigration status (is) their own problem with the French government and, therefore, it’s not in our jurisdiction," Villaroel said. "But they (are) Filipinos (and) we at the Philippine embassy are duty-bound to serve them as required by law, to register them as overseas absentee voters."

He could not, however, say exactly how many OFWs are classified as undocumented or illegal aliens under French laws. "We have at least 100 applicants a day for (the overseas absentee voting registration)."

From August to September, he said, the turnout of registrants in France was a good enough indication of the "patriotism" of Filipinos here. Most of the registrants, he added, paid their travel and other expenses related to the overseas absentee voting registration out of their own pockets.

Many traveled to the Philippine embassy in Paris from other parts of France to meet the "personal appearance" requirement of the registration process, present their valid Philippine passports, fill up the overseas absentee voters’ forms and to undergo the "data-capturing" procedure through which their photographs and samples of their fingerprints and signatures were captured digitally by the Comelec’s electronic voter registration system.

To facilitate voter registration outside Paris, Villaroel added, the Philippine embassy in France hired mobile vans to transport Comelec-designated embassy staff to Marseilles and Nice, where most OFWs are based.

Villaroel, who also serves as non-resident ambassador to Lisbon, Portugal and Monaco, said OFWs from these European states went out of their way to travel to Paris and register.

He said OFWs working in Lisbon would have to spend as much as 700 euros each for plane fare to and from Paris and overnight accommodations in the City of Lights just to register. "Will an OFW spend that much to register and (not even be sure) if he or she can vote? We understand these difficulties. I think the (absentee voting) law was essentially good, but it needs (to be ironed) out... the details that were not taken into consideration when this (law) was passed by Congress."

Besides the expense OFWs must consider in claiming and exercising their right to vote, Villaroel said there are "legal impediments" contained in a provision of RA 9189 that lists the things that will disqualify OFWs seeking registration as voters.

The provision in question states that "an immigrant or a permanent resident who is recognized as such in the host country, unless he/she executes upon filing of an application for registration as overseas absentee voter in an affidavit declaring that; (i) he/she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three years from approval of his/her registration and (ii) he/she has not applied for citizenship in another country."











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