OFWs flag some PH posts’ alleged lack of outreach for overseas voting

MANILA, Philippines – Days before the voting period for the 2022 elections kicks off, community leaders of Filipinos flagged the alleged “unpreparedness” of some Philippine embassies and consulates in the month-long polling exercise.

In a press conference on Tuesday, April 5, representatives of Filipino groups based in Hong Kong, Italy, Saudi Arabia, Canada, and the United States said that there could be disenfranchisement among overseas voters because of the lack of outreach from the Philippine posts to inform them about electoral processes.

Marami po ang nag-uulat sa ating mga kababayan sa labas ng bansa na may mga isyu po silang hinaharap. At mukhang hindi pa handa ang ilang mga embahada at konsulado natin sa ibang bansa para makaboto ang ating kababayan,” said Migrante International chairperson Joanna Concepcion. (Many overseas Filipinos have reported issues they’re facing. Some embassies and consulates may not be prepared to let our countrymen vote.)

The overseas voting period will be from Sunday, April 10, to May 9.

Dahil doon sa delay at kawalan ng public information, bulag na bulag ang community sa ano nga ba ang mangyayari. Binabahala rin kami ng inquiry ng aming mga members, [at] wala rin kaming maisagot dahil hindi nagpapatawag ang konsulado [ng meeting],” said Shiela Tebia-Bonifacio, vice chairperson of United Filipinos in Hong Kong-Migrante (Unifil).

(Because of delays and the lack of public information, the community is totally blind to what will happen. We are facing a flood of inquiries from our community members, and we cannot answer them because the Philippine consulate does not call for a meeting.)

The Philippine consulate in Hong Kong was, however, able to give a briefing to voters on Sunday, April 3.

Yung komunikasyon sa embahada dito sa Roma, halos di namin maramdaman (We can barely feel any communication from the Philippine embassy here in Rome),” said Egay Bonzon, a convenor for 1Sambayan Italy.

Meanwhile, Migrante Saudi Arabia chairperson Marlon Gatdula said domestic helpers did not have a “legal basis” for asking for a day off from their employers so they could vote.

And even if they could go out, Gatdula said that some Filipinos in areas far from the three polling areas – Jeddah, Riyadh, and Al-Khobar – may have to travel 12 hours by land just to cast their votes. Gatdula said the mobile consular services may not be enough to reach the Filipinos in remote areas.

Inaasahan natin ‘yung disenfranchisement ay magiging malaki ang epekto sa rehistradong botante (We expect disenfranchisement to greatly affect registered voters),” said Gatdula.

There are two modes of voting for overseas Filipinos in the 2022 elections – personal, where they appear in-person at Philippine consulates and embassies to shade their ballots, or postal voting, where the consular offices mail the ballots to the voters, and the voters mail them back.

Ballots still not mailed

Community leaders from Italy, Canada, and the US – countries with postal voting – said some Filipinos have not received their ballots in the mail yet.

Nerissa Allegretti of 1Sambayan USA echoed Bonifacio’s statements of being “bulag na bulag (totally blind)” about the procedures to vote in the US, with exception to the Philippine consulate in San Francisco, which has released guidelines.

Allegretti said that in previous elections, ballots were mailed as early as March.

Noong una, March pa lang nare-recieve na ‘yung balota, ngayon ano na? April 5 dito, wala pa ding natanggap tapos ilang araw na lang ang start na ng eleksyon (Before, we would receive ballots in March, but now? It is April 5, and we have not received ballots and the election is already days away),” said Allegretti.

Meanwhile, Bonzon in Italy said that it takes a few days to two weeks for mail to reach some residences for just one way.

Allegretti also raised that the consulate in Chicago released an advisory saying that there were 392 voters under its jurisdiction that did not have mailing addresses. The advisory was released on April 1, but 1Sambayan only saw it upon looking at the website on April 5. The 392 voters were given until April 6 to submit requirements anew.

Allegretti said 1Sambayan took the initiative to look at the names to see if they recognized anyone to help inform them about their mailing addresses.

“We cannot presume that they have all looked at the website. What if some are elderly and do not know how to navigate websites?” Allegretti said in a mix of English and Filipino.

Allegretti added that it was strange how they did not have mailing address records when they should have already provided such information when they registered. She said that this should be further investigated.

Very frustrating at nakakapikon talaga. Grabe ang aming effort dito sa pag comply, sa mga requirement, at saka ‘yung aming mga contribution sa bansang Pilipinas – lahat tayo na nasa labas. Tapos ganito lang na kind of service ang ibinigayshe said.

(It is very frustrating. We put so much effort into complying with the requirements, and not to mention our contributions to the Philippines – all of us out here in different countries. And then they repay us with this kind of service.)

Others concerned the overseas Filipinos brought forward were the payment of postal stamps that voters may have to shoulder, and ensuring that vote-counting machines were watched and protected.

Asked for a reaction, Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said the news already reached him, and he will talk to Commissioner-in-charge Marlon Casquejo for his response.

Turnout per major area has not reached even half of registered voters in the past five elections. At its highest, it was 42.2% among Filipino voters in the Asia Pacific region in 2016.

Over 1.6 million Filipinos overseas are set to cast their votes in the 2022 elections. – with report from Dwight de Leon/Rappler.com

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