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Comelec, DFA seek out 150,000 overseas absentee voters to meet 1-M goal

The Commission on Elections has less than 50 days to register about 150,000 Filipinos abroad to meet its one million registrants target for the 2013 elections.   This means Comelec - with the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs - would have to register over 3,100 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) per day from Mondays to Saturdays.  Despite the tough task, officials said they are not giving up on their target.   “We have (seven) weeks to go. If it’s necessary, we may ask for an extension (for registration),” DFA undersecretary Jose Brillantes told GMA News Online on the sidelines of a press briefing at the Comelec.   Focus They have 47 days until the October 31 deadline for the overseas absentee voting.   A total of 850,708 OFWs have registered for the 2013 elections so far – a hefty increase from the 589,830 registrants for the 2010 elections, Brillantes said.   New registrants since the start of registration last November 2011 reached over 260,000.  The only way to reach the million mark within the deadline is to focus on Filipino-rich countries in Asia, according to Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento.   “I think kung tatarget tayo ng 1 million mark, we focus not in Europe or Africa but in areas where there are many Filipinos. And that is in Asia,” Sarmiento said.   Sarmiento cited countries such as Hong Kong, Taiwan, Bangkok, and the Middle Eastern countries.   Amending the overseas absentee voting law   To make voting easier for OFWs, commissioner Lucenito Tagle said they should amend the Overseas Absentee Voting (OVA) law, which requires OFWs to permanently return to the Philippines not later than three years from the approval of the registration.   The OAV Summit Group – an association of different civil groups advocating the rights of migrant workers – in a statement said the requirement of intent to return “has become a major stumbling block particularly for potential Filipino voters in the United States and Canada.”   “Congress is looking into repealing that… Tatanggalin yan sa bagong batas. Sabi (ng mga OFWs), bakit pa raw sila babalik? Gastos lang ‘yun eh,” said Tagle, who is also the chairman of Comelec’s committee on overseas absentee voting.   According to Section 5-D of Republic Act 9189 or the OVA Law, a registrant must provide an “affidavit prepared for the purpose by the Commission declaring that he/she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three years from approval of his/her registration under this Act.”   Offsite registration   Sarmiento added that it may be too late to make voting easier for OFWs in the 2013 elections, but possible to make registration a breeze for overseas workers.   He cited off-site registration, by which election officers bring the registration sites near areas where OFWs live.   This has been done in Spain and Taiwan, Sarmiento said, but was “inadequate because of lack of machines and funds.”                                             Registration for persons with disabilities and indigenous peoples are done through off-site registration, following Comelec Resolution 9485 and 9427.   “Kung nagagawa natin sa indigenous peoples at PWDs, why not sa OFWs?... We can bring to them the machines for the purpose of registration muna,” Sarmiento said.   Off-site registration may not be possible for 2013 election, he noted, but may be for the 2016 presidential elections.   Voting via Internet   Another way to make voting easier for OFWs is through internet voting, by which they can send their votes even from their homes.   This would make voting easier for OFWs who lives far from the embassies where voting is usually held, Tagle said.   Comelec is looking into implementing internet voting for the 2016 elections, Sarmiento said. — ELR, GMA News