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OFWs in Saudi Arabia find OAV registration schedule 'impractical'

February 3, 2009 6:01pm
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia - The registration for overseas absentee voting (OAV) for the 2010 Philippine elections has started in Saudi Arabia, but very few have reportedly signed up so far.

In Jeddah, only three registered on the first day despite the long period for an information campaign.

Nonetheless, Consul Leo Tito Ausan, OAV chairman at the Philippine Consulate in Jeddah, said that there was no need to worry because six months remained before the end of registration.

He said that they had encountered no problems since registration started because all their equipment and administering officers were prepared. All that is needed now are the voters.

One of the reasons could be lack of information on the part of many OFWs. Alma Arevalo, for instance, claimed her husband was not even aware that the registration had started.

Arevalo said she was accompanying her friend to the consulate when she was asked to register. She took an application form for her husband.

Some members and leaders of the community complained that the schedule of the OAV registration – Saturdays to Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. – was "impractical."

"I agree with the observation that the announced schedule [or] timing of the registration is not conducive to attaining the [Philippine government's] goal of registering at least a million OFW voters for the 2010 election," said Francis Oca of the OFW Congress in Riyadh in an e-mail to Ambassador Antonio Villamor.

Eli Mua of the group United OFW also said that the schedules were in fact meant to "discredit and downgrade" the registration.

"It is meant to discourage OFWs from registering; they seem not to [want to] help the thousands [of potential voters] but just to please the few," he said in an e-mail.

Mua said that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should realize that it would beimpossible for most OFWs to leave their work just to register.

"Hindi puwede mag-absent ang OFW at hindi nag-bibigay ng special leave ang mga company dito, wala silang pakialam sa registration natin [OFWs can't absent themselvges and their employers do not grant special leaves, they do not care about our registration]," he said.

Ahmed Villaflores and Roberto Pardinas suggested that the registration be also held during Thursdays and Fridays, as had been done in the past, when most workers are free. Thursdays and Fridays are weekends in Saudi Arabia.

"Oo nga, mahirap masunod ang ganitong schedule kailangan pa lumiban sa trabaho [Yes, I agree, it would be difficult to follow the original schedule because we would have to be absent from work]," said Pardinas.

Oca suggested that the Philippine consulate and embassy in Saudi Arabia consider changing the registration schedules to Mondays to Wednesdays (9 a.m. to 1 p.m., 3 to 6 p. m.), and Thursdays and Fridays (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

He also asked the consulate to meet with community leaders and representatives from companies with a huge number of Filipino employees to "plan for onsite registrations and other measures which will ensure that majority of [OFWs] are able to register during the short period given [to them]."

In Jeddah, Ausan said that Filipinos in the Kingdom could still register until Aug. 31.

He said OFWs can go to the consulate or embassy during those days and wherever the Saudi government might permit the mobile OAV registration.

But militant groups like Migrante-Middle East have said that the shortened registration period might end up disenfranchising OFWs in Saudi Arabia.

The OAV registration was originally scheduled to open Dec. 1, 2008, but the Comelec moved it to Feb. 1 of this year without adjusting the last day of registration, which is on Aug. 31.

"[The] Comelec should not pass on the consequences of its own failure to OFWs such as the non-delivery of data capturing machines on time in different posts, which will lead to the disenfranchisement of overseas voters," Migrante-ME regional coordinator John Leonard Monterona said in a statement.

He also said it was unfair to shorten the registration period because based on previous OAV registrations nine months was not enough.

"Setting up of mobile or satellite registration centers should be coupled by a massive information dissemination campaign by concerned Philippine posts abroad. Otherwise, the essence of having an absentee voting will be defeated," Monterona said.

However, Ausan warned that the use of mobile registration centers would still be subject to the approval of the Saudi government.

“We can't do anything until the host government decides, but we are hopeful that they will give us authority so that our compatriots in far away places will have the opportunity to register," he said.

Only 8,427 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia were recorded to have registered in 2005 to 2006 while 97,000 registered in 2003. - Ronaldo Concha and Kimberly Jane Tan, GMANews.TV