Senators on Thursday weighed in on the inclusion of congressmen in overseas voting to encourage Filipinos abroad to participate in Philippine elections.
During the Senate’s plenary deliberations on the P14.8-billion proposed budget of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for 2021, Senator Francis Tolentino said overseas Filipino voters should also be allowed to elect congressmen in their hometowns to improve their participation in the country’s polls.
“Why is it that we can’t, to really expand the coverage of overseas voting, why don’t we include the congressmen in the ballot? Similar to what the US is doing? It will generate the participation of our kababayans (countrymen) who are clustered culturally…if they will vote for their congressmen,” Tolentino raised.
Before this, Senator Risa Hontiveros, budget sponsor, said that only about 326,000 of the total 1,822,173 registered overseas absentee voters actually voted in the 2019 elections.
The Comelec also expects the number of registered voters overseas to drop at 1,657,750 in the 2022 elections.
Despite this, she said the poll body projects an increase in overseas voter participation to some 580,000 in two years.
Tolentino noted that the Constitution does not prohibit the inclusion of congressmen in the overseas voting. “It does not say that you can only vote for senators, President and the Vice President,” he said.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said the Comelec could consider the proposal as this could generate more participation from Filipino voters abroad.
“Who said that congressmen are local candidates? They are elected to a legislative body. Why should a congressman be considered as a local official? I do not know whether that is a correct interpretation, but, what is important, I don’t see any program to encourage participation. Yes, we encourage registration, pero kung ‘yong nagre-register hindi naman bumoboto, ganon pa din ang kalalabasan non (but if those registered still do not vote, then the effect is the same),” Drilon said.
“That could be a way in which we can increase the participation of overseas voters, which to date, is very dismal. And no amount of programs, I think, will encourage… I do not know, but, you know, our overseas Filipinos sometimes have lost interest in it, but maybe if we include the local, there’s no harm in doing it,” he added.
Hontiveros said the Comelec was only following the Overseas Absentee Voting Act, which states that Filipino citizens “may vote for President, Vice-President, Senators and Party-List Representatives, as well as in all national referenda and plebiscites.”
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto recalled that lawmakers then did not include congressmen and local candidates in consideration of how votes are being counted in the Philippine election system.
“We have a different overseas voting. The ballots are counted overseas and sent back to Manila. Unlike in the US, overseas voting or absentee voting, it goes to the states. Ang bilangan sa local mismo (Their canvassing happens at the local level). Sa atin national level lang (But for us, it’s only at the national level),” he said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said they also considered then the possible difficulties that the Comelec would face in printing separate, specific ballots for the voters.
“Hindi nila alam kanino ka boboto eh, kung saan ka sa abroad (They do not know which district will you vote in, where you live abroad). So that is the difficulty that we encountered then,” Sotto said.
“But if we could come up with some way, to be able to do that, then perhaps, pwede, but at the moment, I cannot see the possibility,” he added.
“The ballot packet will have to be customized to each overseas Filipino hometowns, so medyo logistical nightmare sa ngayon (so it will be a logistical nightmare). But it’s good na makita natin (to see) what it would entail kung iyan ang gagawin ng ating Kongreso (if Congress decides to pursue it),” Hontiveros also said.