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Drilon pushes on-line voting for Filipinos overseas in 2016

Senate President Franklin Drilon yesterday urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to strengthen the government’s Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) program so more overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) can exercise their right to suffrage without leaving their jobs or residences abroad.

“It is high time that the Comelec adopt all the necessary technologies that would empower about 10 to 12 million overseas Filipinos to use the Internet to register and vote in 2016 and onwards,” said Drilon, principal author of the OAV Act of 2003.

He said the modes of registration and voting under the OAV law, Republic Act 9189 as amended by RA No. 10590, through mail or personal appearance at the Philippine embassies or consulates abroad, limit overseas voter registration and actual voting.

Only 2.5 percent or a little over 200,000 of the estimated 10 to 12 million overseas Filipinos, including OFWs, dual citizens, seafarers cast their votes in past national elections, he said.

Drilon said the Comelec should make it a reality for Filipinos based outside the country to be able to vote in the upcoming 2016 national elections by utilizing the power of the Internet.

“Technological advances should already be utilized to surmount all overseas voting challenges in the past. The bigger voice of overseas Filipinos must be heard now,” he said.

Drilon noted that the low turnout for OAV registration and votes prompted the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to issue Foreign Service Circular No. 16-2014 instructing Philippine foreign service posts to determine if overseas Filipinos applying for passport renewal are registered under the OAV.

Despite such efforts, registration turnout has been dismal and voting percentage did not improve significantly.

He noted that despite the huge funds and enormous efforts poured by the government during the last May, 2010 elections, there was still a very low turnout of OAV registrants and actual voters.

The perennial complaints of OFW groups, Filipino immigrants, seafarers and Filipino students abroad is the distance of the OAV centers from the Philippine embassies and consulates, discouraging them from participating in the national elections.

While Filipinos overseas in countries like Hong Kong or Singapore have easy access to OAV centers, the same is not true for their counterparts in many countries in the Middle East, the United States and Europe, where Philippine consulates and embassies are located far away from worksites or residences.

“Overseas Filipinos risk their lives even in strife-torn countries like Libya now not only for their families, but also to prop up our economy with their over $20 billion in remittances each year,” Drilon said.

“We should make it easier for them to vote and to participate in all democratic processes by utilizing the power of the Internet,” he said.

He said 20 other countries have already successfully launched their own online absentee voting and registration so there is no reason why the Philippines can’t do the same.

“Online absentee registration and voting is already practiced in about 20 countries, including the US, France, Germany, Italy and Australia. So, I see no reason anymore why it can’t be done in the Philippines as well,” said Drilon.

He also said sophisticated data encryption and other available technologies can address security and technical concerns of online registration and voting.

The Comelec Advisory Council (CAC) has recommended “the use of new technologies such as, but not limited to, Online Voting and recent innovations in Direct Electronic Recording (DRE) equipment,” he said.

“If we are to have online registration and voting in 2016, then we must already do the spadework now, starting with looking at the different technologies being utilized by countries where Internet voting is already practiced, and implement it right now in time for 2016,” said Drilon.

In France alone, more than 1.5 million absentee voters cast their votes through the Internet, Drilon said saying it “means it is doable.”

Drilon said the Senate will fully support the Comelec in its efforts to beef up the government’s OAV program.