Senate Amends Absentee Voting Law

MANILA, Philippines --- The Senate removed yesterday a requirement on Filipino immigrants abroad to execute an affidavit stating that they would return to the Philippines in three years time before they are allowed to vote in absentia.

This came after it passed on third and final reading Senate Bill No. 3312 which seeks to amend the Overseas Absentee Voting Act (OAVA) of 2003.

Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, chairman of the Senate electoral reforms committee, said the affidavit requiring overseas Filipinos to come back within three years or face permanent deletion from the Comelec registry "is a serious obstacle to our citizens' right to vote."

"That affidavit, which is a legal government document, shall not only be binding on the potential registrant but also on the future of their families as well," Pimentel said.

As sponsor of the bill, Pimentel said Filipinos who have reacquired and/or retained their Philippine citizenship could participate in Philippine elections once the bill is enacted into law.

Under the OAVA, 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 residence in the Philippines not later than three years from approval of his or her registration, Pimentel said.

This provision is a threat of removal from the immigrant's or permanent resident's name from the National Registry of Absentee Voters if he or she fails to return to the Philippines within the prescribed period, he pointed out.

There are 915,000 OAVA applicants today compared to 589,830 registrants in 2010, where only 153,323 or 25% actually voted.

This number, Pimentel said, is expected to increase once the condition on the execution of affidavit is removed.

"Once this law is enacted, I hope that we will meet and surpass the one-million mark that the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) have set for themselves since 2010," Pimentel said.

He is optimistic that that ten times a million OAV votes may be possible in 2016 and beyond, with the enactment of Senate Bill 3312," he said.