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NAMFREL calls for more convenient overseas voting

The National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) is calling on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to consider ways to increase participation in overseas absentee voting (OAV).

In its pre-election assessment report released Monday, NAMFREL—a citizen's arm in the 2016 polls—recommended "that Comelec explore methods of online and postal registration and voting to facilitate participation by overseas Filipino citizens."

International elections experts who authored the report noted while overseas voter registration had reached a record-high 1.3 million, it was still just a fraction of the 10 the million Filipinos around the world.

NAMFREL national council member Damaso Magbual pointed to the "potential" of overseas Filipinos making a statement with their votes.

"Why should we put emphasis on the overseas voting Filipinos? These are beyond the reach of the politicians. They are beyond pressure, they are beyond coercion, they cannot be bought, I think, and therefore you can expect them to make a decisive or a well-informed choice," Magbual explained.

NAMFREL noted that there were "deficiencies" in the law that made it possible for overseas Filipinos to vote.

"I think it's fair to say that in many places, it's very difficult for Filipino workers to get to their diplomatic posts to report their vote. It requires a day off work and that's not practical," said Julian Type, an Australian elections expert and member of the pre-assessment mission.

Magbual, who also heads the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), added: "[For example], if I'm a contract worker in Phuket, Thailand, the law says I should go register in Bangkok. And it also says I should go and vote in Bangkok. How much will I spend for that? Will I spend an equivalent of 10,000 baht just to be able to cast one vote? No, I won't."

Online, postal

Type,  who served as electoral commissioner of Tasmania and deputy chair of the Joint Electoral Management Body of Afghanistan in 2005, nevertheless lauded the government for "efforts being made... to increase registration and facilitate voting."

NAMFREL national council member Telibert Laoc, meanwhile, praised the Comelec's efforts for Filipinos in conflict areas, who may now go to a designated neighboring post to cast their votes.

The organization, however, called on the poll body to consider "more convenient ways," not only to lessen costs on voters, but also lower government's expenses.

Laoc pointed that about P221 pesos was spent on every overseas voter during registration.

"If the turn-out in 2016 will still be the same, the cost of delivering each ballot will be 881 [pesos]," he said.

For his part, Magbual said, there are "cheaper ways of doing it," reiterating that online registration and voting was possible. The postal voting period could also be extended.

‘Hit the target’

The proposals may not come into effect in the coming elections, with the month-long overseas voting period abroad to start on April 9.

Be that as it may, the Comelec said that all their systems were ready, despite last-minute adjustments needed after the Supreme Court ordered that voting receipts be issued.

According to the poll body, the SD cards had been reconfigured and shipped back to their destinations. Comelec chair Andres Bautista also noted that all other equipment and the supplies needed had been deployed.

NAMFREL said the preparations "should not impede upon voters' intent to participate" in the elections, and called on the poll body to hit the 80-percent turn-out it aimed for.

"We would like to encourage them to hit the target, finally, after years or decades of discussion on absentee voting... We would like to see that succeed," Laoc said. — DVM, GMA News