It’s time for genuine OFW representation in gov’t

The successive crises that have overwhelmed overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and their families recently – from the case of the three OFWs awaiting execution in China; the spate of revolutions that has engulfed a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries; and now the current humanitarian disaster in Japan resulting from the massive quake and tsunami last week – brings to the fore the urgent need for genuine OFW representation in government.

You see, aside from the anguish and distress suffered by the thousands of OFWs from these successive crises, the world have also seen glaring proof of the Philippine government’s utter failure to ensure the safety and security of their so-called ‘bagong bayanis.’

OFWs in China Deathrow

The government scrambled on the eleventh hour to save the three OFWs from execution in China. It must be remembered that through the early stages of the OFWs’ trial, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have been vocal in not extending legal aid to these troubled OFWs. It has even went to the extent of advising the OFWs to just “behave in prison to be pardoned.”

Though the government scored a diplomatic coup recently by managing to defer the scheduled execution last month through the effort of Vice President Jejomar Binay, China has eventually decided to push through with the execution.

It was last Thursday March 17, 2011 – as the nation commemorated the 16th Anniversary of the martyrdom of Flor Contemplacion, the OFW whose unjust hanging in Singapore exposed to the world the harsh realities of the Filipino forced migration – that China announced that the verdict against OFWs Ramon Credo, Sally Ordinario-Villanueva and Elizabeth Batain over drug trafficking charges, was indeed “final” and that the verdict will be carried out “sooner or later.”

In response, the Philippine government (as though ignorant of the weight that date holds for millions of Filipinos toling in all corners of the world and their families here in the country) have apparently raised the white flag and seemed proudly convinced that saving the three from sure death in China will be next to impossible.

DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario admitted that the government is now at a loss as to how they can prevent the execution from happening. Meanwhile, Malacanang has come out advising the OFWs’ kin to just “respect” Chinese laws, adding even that “there is no possibility for a commutation for the three.”

“We respect their decision,” a Presidential Spokesman said.

The execution of three Filipinos in China gallows, it must be emphasized, should not be seen as a victory against efforts to curb the menace of  international drug trade, because these so-called ‘mules’ are just victims of big time syndicates that prey on hapless Filipino workers so desperate to earn a few bucks so they can send enough money for their families at home.

The fact that there are Filipinos who are willing to risk their lives and livelihood for a quick buck by delivering illegal drugs, even inserting the merchandise into their privates, tells a lot about the abysmal economic state of the country.

There’ll be no drug mules, no OFWs even, if there are decent and sustainable jobs and farm lands to till here in the country.

So it is the height of official insensitivity and callousness for Malacanang to tell the poor OFWs’ families now to harp the  ‘China has spoken and the execution will push through so we just have to respect their decision’ mantra on the very day an OFW was executed in Singapore 16 years ago largely because of government’s criminal neglect!

Meanwhile, the largest alliance of OFW organizations worldwide, Migrante International, has been calling on the government from the very beginning to act on the cases of Filipinos unjustly jailed and on deathrow overseas.

Based on the group’s monitoring, “there are currently 125 OFWs in death row. Of the 125, 85 are drug-related and 79 of these are in China jails. The rest are in the Middle East, Malaysia and Thailand.”

Migrante Chairman Garry Martinez has squarely blamed this to the government’s unfettered “labor export policy”.

“Our Filipino workers will always be subjected to these tragedies for as long as the government sticks to promoting labor export policy unmindful of the welfare and protection of our OFWs. Unless the government creates enough decent jobs at home to curb forced migration, it will always be responsible for every life that is threatened, endangered or lost.”

On OFWs and wars

The tension and violence that gripped the countries such as Egypt, Libya, Bahrain in the past weeks, meanwhile, revealed how vulnerable OFWs are during times of conflicts and wars.

They become even more vulnerable when those who are supposed to protect them during these times are the ones who go missing in action or are the first ones to scamper away for safety.

Take the Philippine government’s response to the Libyan crisis for example.

During the height of hostilities in the strife-torn country, all the embassy and the DFA could tell the thousands of confused, war shocked and distraught OFWs there were “go to the Embassy in Tripoli if you wish to be repatriated or just stay put.”

Of course, this moronic instruction from the embassy and the DFA prompted the OFWs there to just organize themselves, brave the bullets and bombs just to get to the nearest border.

At the onset, the Filipino public had no idea that we indeed have an Ambassador in Tripoli. We only learned of this when the DFA deployed its so-called “Quick Reaction Team” headed by Ricardo Endaya. But when ‘help’ arrived, the fleeing OFWs were half way through their journey to the borders.

And so, the DFA QRT just made themselves comfortable in the Libya-Tunisian border. Some even commented that the team merely acted as a “reception committee” for the hordes of OFWs who escaped conflict-ridden Libya, sans government help.

Instead of getting their acts together, the government agencies concerned contented on blaming each other on the monumental blunder they made in the Libyan crisis.

Meanwhile, as the DFA brandishes their patented incompetence with regard to helping OFWs in distress and while it scrambles to explain why OFWs and their worried family members cant get through their much ballyhooed hotlines, Migrante International kept the nation updated on the latest situation on the ground.

And because the DFA’s ‘hotlines’ have become ‘not-lines’, according to some OFWs, Migrante also put up a crisis center and hotlines and posted contact persons and their numbers inside ravaged cities in Libya such as Benghazi and Tripoli.

As expected, the calls poured in and the public was kept abreast on the latest developments in Libya. According to some Migrante staff who manned their crisis center, even the DFA used the data they have gathered and shamelessly pointed OFWs in distress to Migrante’s contact persons in Tripoli, such as Fr. Alan Arcebuche, in case they need help inside Libya.

Those who managed to be repatriated from Libya were assured, however, of receiving baseball caps from the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA), a financial assistance worth P10,000 and promises of job deployment abroad!

Of course, OFWs deemed the government’s response as “unacceptable”

“We are gravely concerned that the Philippine government continues to send our workers abroad when they fail to protect the welfare of our OFWs during critical times,” Migrante Chairman Garry Martinez said. “But above all, Malacañang has not offered any clear and concrete response.”

The best economic alternative, according to Migrante, however, is to implement genuine agrarian reform program and nationalization of basic industries that would become our local economy’s backbone coupled with a well-planned, pro-people economic structural policy towards the desired economic development.

OFWs and natural disasters

If you thought the government learned its lesson during the Libyan crisis, think again. It demonstrated, yet again, their world-class incompetence when a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Japan last March 11, 2011.

According to Migrante’s chapter in Japan, the Philippine Embassy there waited three full days to check on the situation of Filipinos affected by the disaster.

“Para lang silang namamasyal sa koen (park) at nakipag-tsismisan sa mga kababayan natin doon,”Rossana Tapiru, the group’s representative said.

The consular mission was dispatched Monday, March 14, 2011, upon the orders of Ambassador Manuel Lopez following an SOS from 20 Filipino seafarers trapped inside a hotel in Fukushima, one of the areas devastated by the double disaster.

MIGRANTE Japan said that it took the embassy three full days before it could finally send a mission there, but sadly, the mission had barely little to offer relief for distraught Filipinos there.

What’s worse, the Philippine Embassy abandoned the OFWs in their time of need. In the aftermath of the tremor and tsunami that hit Japan, Migrante Japan said, “this is the most dastardly act we’ve seen so far from officials of the Philippine embassy in Tokyo.”

“They have done so little yet, and now they are abandoning their post to save their themselves leaving our distraught compatriots fending for themselves. What a disgrace!”

The group pointed a distress call from Filipino students in Japan who complained of insensitivity and ineptness of the consular team who were on a rush to get back to Tokyo with or without the rest of the Filipinos still in the area.

For its part, Migrante Japan, regularly posts updates and lists down names of Filipinos reportedly missing or found via their hotlines. The said list, by the way, is regularly and shamelessly copy-pasted by the DFA and the PHL embassy in Tokyo to make it appear that they are doing their jobs.  (See for yourselves here and compare it to this link here.)

The need for genuine OFW representation

In light of the appalling condition of OFWs and their families brought about by the government’s criminal neglect on their rights and well-being, the need for genuine OFW representation in government has become even more apparent.

Although Migrante Sectoral Party ran during the 2004 party-list race, it didn’t garner enough votes to secure a seat in Congress. The Party, then decided to not participate in the 2007 elections in order to strengthen its organization and prepare for the elections in 2010.

Consolidated and ready, the Migrante Sectoral Party filed its Certificate of Candidacy for the 2010 Party-list race. But the group was delisted by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) allegedly for failing to get at least two percent of votes in the last two elections prior to 2010.

But the group averred that the delisting reeked of political vendetta as it is widely known to constantly criticize the government’s failure to protect its workers abroad.

“In good faith, we said we will first strengthen the party-list. This time we think we’re ready because now our group has a wider coverage, we are even present in 23 countries,” Connie Bragas-Regalado, chairperson of Migrante, told GMANews.TV.

According to Regalado, the Comelec decision was “politically motivated.”

“We think our delistment is politically motivated because we are a progressive party-list group that is critical of the policies of the government for its forced migration strategies,” she said.

But there seems to be chance for Migrante to finally be allowed to truly represent OFWs and their families interests in Congress.

The Supreme Court on April 29, 2010 ruled in favor of the petition of the Party-List PGBI to annul COMELEC Resolution 8679 which delisted 26 Party-List groups (including PGBI) for failing to garner 2% of the votes in the last two elections.

Remember, Migrante was also among the Party-Lists by the COMELEC delisted citing the same reason.

The dispositive portion of the Supreme Court Decision (G.R. No. 190529) reads as follows:

WHEREFORE, premises considered, we GRANT the petition and accordingly ANNUL COMELEC Resolution No. 8679 dated October 13, 2009 insofar as the petitioner PGBI is concerned, and the Resolution dated December 9, 2009 which denied PGBI’s motion for reconsideration in SPP No. 09-004 (MP). PGBI is qualified to be voted upon as a party-list group or organization in the coming May 2010 elections.

So you see, OFWs have the chance to be truly represented in Congress after all.  When Migrante so decides to again gun for a Congressional seat or seats via the Party-List System in the 2013 elections, the COMELEC will have no reason any more to deny their accreditation.

Let us just hope that Migrante will be able to gather enough votes to win seats in the 2013 polls!

Curing a defective Romulo

Malacanang has reportedly “cured” Alberto Romulo’s “defective” appointment as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary by simply antedating his appointment papers from August 10, 2010 to July 1, 2010.

But while defective appointments such as that of Romulo’s can easily be cured with just a slight of hand from Malacanang, can we ever cure a defective Romulo?

A relic from the previous Macapagal-Arroyo regime, Romulo was never a stranger to earth shaking controversies that rocked his leadership at the Foreign Affairs Department.

Beheadings

It was during Romulo’s term at the DFA that not one, but six overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were executed abroad. The six OFWs are: Antonio Alvesa, Sergio Aldana, Miguel Fernandez, Wilfredo Bautista, Reynaldo Cortez and Jenifer Beduya.

All of them were beheaded largely because of the DFA’s patented mishandling of their cases. In the case of Beduya, for example, the DFA only provided him with an interpreter and not a lawyer during the initial and most crucial stages of his trial.

Beduya was beheaded in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia October 2008.

Passport price increase

Romulo is also responsible for the meteoric rise in the cost of Philippine Passports. This was due to the onerous contract entered into by Romulo for the new electronic-Passports.

Migrante International, the largest alliance of OFW groups worldwide, has assailed the P857 Million E-Passport contract as “illegal, unethical and grossly overpriced“.

“Romulo has squandered millions of pesos in corruption via the e-passport project when the DFA had failed to provide welfare services, protection and assistance to OFWs, especially those in distress and facing death row,” Migrante said.

Thanks to Romulo’s onerous E-Passport contract, Passport costs shot up to P950 to P1,200 from P550 to P750 in the Philippines. Passports prices abroad  were higher and went up to as much as thrice the previous rates.

Budget cuts

Notwithstanding the left and right allegations of criminal negligence on the plight of distressed OFWs;  a cool, calm and collected  Romulo didn’t even raise any objection to the Palace instigated budget cut to the funds intended for helping OFWs abroad.

When Malacanang wanted to slash more than 50 percent to the combined budget of the Assistance to Nationals Fund (ATN) and Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) of the DFA, all Romulo can say was:

“In the spirit of teamwork and (because of the) gaping deficit…we abide by the decision of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to cut our budget… “

He said he is fully supportive of the President’s ‘austerity program’ to reduce the budget deficit “that’s why we are not going to ask for any increase in our budget.”

Never mind if the drastic budget cuts would spell doom to the more than 7,000 jailed; 10,000 stranded and 108 OFWs on deathrow.

Curing Romulo

Romulo, with his defective appointment finally ‘cured’, can now sleep soundly at night knowing that he can no longer be charged with usurpation of authority and misrepresentation for his acts from July 1 until August 9, 2010.

But then again, can an antedated appointment ever cure a defective Romulo?

If we are to ask an entire army of OFWs, whose condition has dramatically deteriorated with Romulo at the DFA’s helm, I think the answer is NO.

The anti-OFW in Noynoy rears its ugly head

With the drastic slash in the funds intended to help overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in distress, President Noynoy Aquino has signaled his administration’s total abandonment of the rights and welfare of millions of Filipino migrant workers abroad.

It was learned during Wednesday’s budget hearing in Congress that Malacanang has trimmed down the Department of Foreign Affairs’ (DFA) Legal Assistance Fund (LAF) allocation from P100 million to P27 million in the proposed 2011 national budget.

The LAF is used to pay mainly for the lawyers and interpreters who are hired by the government to defend OFWs jailed abroad, most especially for those who are languishing on death row.

Thus, the Malacanang instigated P73 million budget cut is a death blow to OFWs who are in desperate need of legal help from the government.

Currently, there are more than seven thousand jailed OFWs worldwide and about 180  more are awaiting execution in various death rows overseas.

If the observable indifference of Philippine posts to their plight is bad news enough for them and their families here in the country, it would be unspeakable if they hear about Noynoy’s plan to give our inutile embassy and consular officials more reason to abandon them!

Noynoy should rethink his plan to chop the DFA’s Legal Assistance Fund.

The move is patently illegal as it goes against the provision in the Migrant Workers Act that states P100 million are to be allocated for the LAF annually.

It is also immoral as the drastic budget cut completely flies in the face of more than ten million OFWs, whose “needs” Noynoy  had just wanted the DFA and other concerned government agencies to be more “responsive” to.

Is this what you mean by being “responsive” Mr. President? By chopping the only lifeline our hapless , desperate and locked up kababayans overseas have?

Stuck in Iraq and a hard place

In a memorandum dated July 20, 2010, United States Colonel Richard Nolan of the Central Command’s Contracting Command, has ordered all contractors inside Iraq to send home all workers in their employ who came from countries that prohibits work and travel to Iraq.

Nolan cited an incident in the past weeks wherein eight such workers – “third country nationals” according to his memo – were discovered to have been abandoned by their employers at various contractor controlled camps across Iraq.

“Employing individuals with passports which state “not valid in Iraq” violates both host nation and third country laws. CENTCOM is currently aware that the Philippine and the Nepalese Governments prohibit its citizens from traveling to Iraq. There may be other countries. It is the contractor’s responsibility that it is not employing people from countries prohibited from entry to Iraq” said Nolan in his memo.

He then gave all contractors 20 days to ensure that their employees comply with both US and international laws and that they understand their redeployment obligations under their contract.

The sudden pull-out order resurrected calls for the government to consider lifting its deployment ban. The Philippines imposed the ban on 2004 after the kidnapping of Filipino truck driver Angelo dela Cruz by Iraqi militants.

Emmanuel Geslani, consultant to the country’s major recruitment agencies, has urged the Aquino administration to “partially lift” the ban if only to allow those who are already employed in Iraq to continue with their work.

“It would be a nightmare for the new administration”,  Geslani said if an estimated 15,000 Filipino workers are repatriated back to the country jobless.

Quite a number of Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) netizens seem to agree with Geslani’s assessment. ABS-CBN News, which carried the story on the pull-out order, received several comments from OFWs, who appears to be either currently in Iraq or has relatives working in Iraq, supporting the call to lift the ban.

anongsaymo, a Certified Public Accountant working in another warzone, Afghanistan (deployment there is also banned by the government by the way), minced no words when he commented:

It is never a crime to work in a dangerous place, so you could feed yourself and your family, when your own country cannot provide jobs for its own people.

If the ban continues, and you send 15,000 Pinoys home and jobless, you can now call yourselves IRRESPONSIBLE people, IRRESPONSIBLE leaders, IRRESPONSIBLE fathers and mothers of this country who do not realize the consequences, the number of mouths who might not get fed, and the number of children who will not get to school.

Whoever is/are behind this, probably guys who rides a Mercedes, sits in a big leather chair with a shiny wooden table with the airconditioning on, and his/her secretary to assist, they must have got big guts to ban us when they cannot even provide good paying jobs for their people! So lift the ban! Let us work for ourselves and for our family, coz it is never your asses that are in the battlefield, it’s ours!

You dont even have a consulate! Coz the truth is you dont really care!

bluedennis7789, meanwhile, couldn’t help but express his disappointment with the pull-out order and the continuing deployment ban. He said his father is an OFW in Iraq for six years already and that his family is relying solely on his father’s earnings.

I am deeply saddened by this news. I already knew it last Friday when my father called me that he and other Filipino workers would be sent back here in the Philippines. My father stayed there for almost 6 straight years already. I was able to graduate in college because of him. I am currently working but still I cannot sustain the expenses of our family. We are much depending on my father. That is why we are shocked by the news. I am sure a lot of families feel the same way. Every time I ask my father on what is the situation there he would always say that he is very safe there. I think his 6 straight years’ experience there is enough to say that the Filipinos are doing well there despite the fact that Iraq is not yet at peace. I am suggesting the government to lift the ban for at least 3 months. It is because it is shocking news and the families here are not ready for that kind of news. Maybe, it would ease the burden of the families if the government can talk with the US government to allow for at least 3 months suspension of the ban. If only I am thinking of myself I would rather want my father go home because I missed him so much but then I think of what the future awaits. My father is already 46 years old and I think it would be difficult for him to find another job. I have younger siblings who are still studying and my family will be suffering because of this situation.

dennis

Some OFWs couldn’t contain their disdain at the Philippine government’s stance on the brewing crisis. The Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has reportedly welcomed the US army’s decision to send home OFWs currently in Iraq.  The official has also ruled out the possibility of lifting the ban saying that the situation in Iraq is still “dangerous.”

“We’ve always asked [US and other countries] to respect our ban. We have always asked them to please help us because delikado nga sa Iraq (it’s dangerous in Iraq). They’ve never been heeded until now, when they’re winding down their operations,” DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs Esteban Conejos said.

The Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA), meanwhile, has assured those who will be displaced a start-up capital loan of P10,000.00 and alternative job postings in another country.

But OFW tag-hirap had this to say: Napaka imposible po!

uuwi po kami at bibigyan nyo kami ng trabaho? yung mga nandyan nga po sa pilipinas walang trabaho eh. at kung magkakaroon man ng trabaho para samin po diyan, masasahuran nyo po ba kami ng tulad ng sinasahod namin dito? mabibigyan nyo ba kami ng tirahan na libre, pagkain na libre? umuwi nalang kami para magnegosyo? kaya nga po kami andito para magipon ng pang negosyo. kasi alam namin na di naman pang-habang buhay dito ang trabaho, ang habol lang po namin ay ang pagkakataon na kumita ng pera na pang nenegosyo rin po namin dyan sa pinas pagbalik namin.

yun po ang katotohanan. bibigyan po ng trabaho talaga? lahat kami? magpakatotoo po tayo. wag po panay sulat sa hangin.

Surprise! Nepal lifts ban

But while the Philippines continues to stand pat on its policy to prohibit Filipinos from traveling to Iraq, the Nepalese government has moved to lift the ban on their nationals entering the country.

Upon hearing the news of the US army’s pull-out order, Nepalese Foreign secretary Madan Kumar Bhattarai, based on reports, immediately summoned US ambassador to Nepal Scott H DeLisi to discuss the situation, as more than 30,000 Nepali workers are currently staying “illegally” inside Iraq.

And after assurances were made by the US that they will retain the Nepali workers in spite of the pull-out order, Nepal decided to lift its six year old deployment ban. To recall, Nepal banned its citizens from entering Iraq after 12 Nepalis were executed by radical militants in August 2004.

Stuck in Iraq and a hard place

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has yet to speak on this issue that stands to affect more than 15,000 Filipinos in Iraq, not to mention the thousands more in the country who survive on their toils.

That the pull-out order has been in effect for more than a week, the Aquino administration’s silence towards the looming crisis is downright disturbing. Thousands of our breadwinner kababayans there stand to lose their jobs in a matter of weeks and yet not a whimper of reply from the Malacanang.

Its deafening silence, however, betrays the reprehensible arrogance on the part of the Aquino administration most especially those in the labor and foreign affairs departments. That they even lauded the US’s move despite the alarming level of unemployment in the country boggles the mind and speaks volumes of their utter indifference to the affected OFWs’ plight and that of their families.

It is as if they have anything sustainable and long-term to offer the 15,000 souls that are set to be sent back to the country. It is not surprising that their paltry tender of P10,000 start-up capital and job slots in Qatar or elsewhere were outrightly rejected and was even ridiculed by the OFWs themselves.

But then again, it is most certain that the snowballing clamor for the government to lift the deployment ban, aggravated further by Nepal’s decision to lift theirs, is having Philippine labor and foreign affairs officials scratching their heads. They are stuck between Iraq and a hard place, literally.

But the government has no one to blame but themselves.

The farcity of the RP deployment ban

We have to understand that the so-called ‘deployment ban’ was nothing more than a farce, a knee-jerk reaction by the Arroyo government to the Angelo dela Cruz crisis back in 2004. It was imposed by the the Arroyo regime to douse cold water to the growing international pressure for it to pull-out the Filipino armed contingent in Iraq in exchange for the life of dela Cruz.

When the US invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003, former President Gloria Arroyo was among the very first world leaders to join the US led Coalition of the Willing. It subsequently committed Filipino boots on the ground to aid the US in its unjust and illegal war of aggression against the Iraqi people.

Also, it must be noted that the Arroyo government imposed the ban because of its desperation to portray an image among the Filipino people that it was on top of the situation amid extreme pressure from Washington for Arroyo not to even consider pulling-out Filipino troops in Iraq.

The deployment ban’s farcity was immediately validated when the number of Filipinos in Iraq continued to rise despite the standing government policy.

It would be remembered that when dela Cruz was kidnapped in Iraq on July 8, 2004, Filipinos there numbered only at 4,000. But when another OFW, Roberto Tarongoy, was kidnapped a year later, the number increased two-fold!

And so plenty more have either been killed, maimed and injured inside the war zones of Iraq in the years that followed. Recently, after the US decided finally to “heed” the Philippine’s deployment ban according to DFA’s Conejos, we now have 15,000 Filipinos braving bullets, bombs and abductions on a daily basis in Iraq!

Filipinos have managed to sneak into Iraq despite the stamps on their passports that say “Not valid to Iraq” and the government couldn’t care less. All they are concerned about are the moneys the OFWs continue to pour in the country in the form of their remittances. Whether the dollars came from the sweltering plantations in Sabah, Malaysia, or inside Iraq’s constantly bombarded Green Zone, it doesn’t matter. So long as it continues to come in to buoy our ever sinking economy afloat.

In short, the deployment ban, which DFA’s Conejos so ridiculously prides himself with, is just ink in one’s passport and nothing more.

So Filipinos should not fall into the trap and engage in the fruitless debate on whether to lift the ban or not.

We should focus on the heart of the issue: the sad fact that there are 15,000 Filipinos who are moving heaven and earth as we speak just so they can stay longer in war torn Iraq.  Hindi baleng kahit kalahati ng katawan nila sa Iraq ay nasa hukay na dahil sa peligro, basta’t may maipadala lang na pera para sa pamilyang umaasa sa Pilipinas.

Our struggling kababayans in Iraq mirror the real state of the nation today. We truly are stuck in Iraq and a hard place – a situation where choosing to risk death in a far away war zone becomes a wiser decision than slugging it out in a place where breakfast, lunch and dinner is a constant unwinnable battle for the majority of the people.

On the Govt’s plan to automate the voting in HK, Singapore

The Department of Foreign Affairs and the Commission on Elections have recenty inked a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to pilot test the automated voting of Filipino overseas absentee voters in Hong Kong and Singapore.

A total of 128, 272 Filipino voters in both countries are expected to cast their ballots in the first ever automated Philippine elections abroad. It is also said that the Philippine Government has set aside P40 million for the planned automated voting.

While the automation of the Filipino overseas vote is indeed a welcome development, I believe there are some questions that the COMELEC and the DFA should address:

The first thing Philippine election authorities should address is the question of HOW are they going to go about the automated balloting in the two OFW rich countries. They say that more than 128,000 Filipino voters in both countries are expected to participate; so if the automated counting machines (Precinct Count Optical Scan) can accomodate only 1,000 voters per precinct according to the COMELEC, does it mean the COMELEC will be deploying 128 PCOS machines in HK and Singapore?

Second, where does the government plan to set up those machines? Will they be placed only inside the Philippine Consulate or will they be scattered to different locations around HK and Singapore?

According to the COMELEC’s Calendar of Activities for the 2010 elections, overseas absentee voters will start casting their ballots starting April 10, 2010 until May 10, 2010. If they are going to automated the HK, Singapore vote, will the machines be deployed there for a period of one month?

What if a machine breaks down, will there be spare machines or will those be coming from the Philippines as well?

Lastly – and I think this is the most important – who are going to man the PCOS machines for the possible month long balloting? Will it be the Consulate officials? If so, are they trained and familiar with the technology?

The government should address this questions right away so as to forestall any apprehension of a possible wholesale disenfranchisement of thousands of voters in HK and Singapore.

These two countries have been consistently placed among the top 10 countries who have the highest number of registered Filipino overseas absentee voters. It would be unforgivable if their votes wouldn’t count in May 10, 2010.