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Congress approves bill removing ‘absentee’ label to Pinoy overseas voters

The Philippine Congress has given its full approval on a bill removing the “absentee” tag to overseas Filipino voters.   On Wednesday night,  the House of Representatives ratifie the bicameral conference committee reports on the disagreeing provisions of House Bill 6542 and Senate Bill 3312, which both seek to amend Republic Act (R.A.) 9189, or the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003.   The proposed legislation seeks to replace the term “overseas absentee voters” to simply “overseas voters.” The measure will now be forwarded to Malacañang for President Benigno Aquino III’s signature. A total of 988,384 Filipinos abroad registered as overseas voters for the upcoming 2013 elections, based on Commission on Elections (Comelec) records.   Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, co-author of the bill and chairperson of the House committee on overseas workers affair, said this amendment will remove the “connotation that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are second-class citizens.”   “The label ‘absentee’ quite an emotional matter for our kababayans abroad… It is as if OFWs, by not being in the Philippines, are remiss of their duties to their families and to the country,” Bello said in a statement.   “By removing the label, we thus eliminate unnecessary distinction between OFWs and Filipinos within the country. It should not have been there in the first place, because we are Filipinos, wherever we are,” he added.   Last Tuesday, the Senate ratified the bicameral conference committee reports on the bill.   No need for affidavit   The measure, if enacted into law, will also remove the current requirement for overseas Filipinos to execute an affidavit stating their intention to return to the Philippines in three years before they can be registered as overseas voters. Under the R.A. 9189, an immigrant or a permanent resident must execute upon registration an affidavit prepared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declaring that he or she "shall resume actual physical permanent residence" in the Philippines not later than three years from approval of his or her registration.   Bello said this amendment seeks to encourage more Filipinos overseas to register as voters.   “Removing the return requirement will certainly boost the registration of overseas voters, and will make Philippine democracy more inclusive,” he said. - VVP, GMA News