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Overseas voter registration target higher for 2016 polls – DFA official

The overseas voter registration target for the 2016 elections will be higher than the goal of one million set for this year's midterm elections, a Foreign Affairs official said on Monday.

On the sidelines of the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) conference with stakeholders on the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) on the amended overseas voting law, DFA undersecretary Jose Brillantes replied, "Absolutely, yes," when asked if the government would raise the target number, saying that the law has been improved.

For one, the amended law under Republic Act 10590 allows for voters whose registration records were deactivated for failing to vote in two consecutive elections to file for reactivation. In the old law, these voters were immediately delisted.

"That's already a starting point. So one million becomes a very low target," said the undersecretary, whose brother is Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes Jr.

He did not specify the exact number the government has set as its new goal, but said it will reflect on the law's IRR, which is being drafted by the Comelec with migrant stakeholders.

"The IRR will determine more or less the target. But sometimes, putting a target is an incentive, sometimes it's something that depends on all the circumstances," Brillantes said.

The DFA and Comelec barely missed the target this year, with about 988,384 registering for overseas voting.

"[So] it will not be lowered. We only missed [the target] by a hairline," Brillantes said.

The overseas voting law was amended to address the dismal overseas voter turn-out in the recent elections: 16 percent in the 2013 elections, lower than the 25.99-percent turnout in 2010, according to Comelec data.

The new overseas voting law provides for the creation of the Office of Overseas Voting within the Comelec that would run the overseas elections, as well as an in-house Election Registration Board in the Comelec and in every voting post that would sift through voters' registration records.

The amended law also cancelled the "affidavit of intent" rule which states that a voter may only be registered if he or she promises to take up permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three years after the approval.

The new law also gives voters who failed to vote in two consecutive elections the option to reactivate their deactivated registration records. The old law immediately delisted these voters.

The law also dropped the tag "absentee" voting for overseas voters, supposedly to treat them as ordinary voters who happened to be working abroad.

The Comelec is expected to approve the IRR in early December. — BM, GMA News