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Frustration simmers at election forum

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : Just one week before the Overseas Absentee Voting registration season came to an end on October 31, a delegation from the Commission on Elections (Comelec), headed by the commissioner, Arthur Lim, held an open forum at the offices of the Philippine Consulate General in Admiralty on October 25.

In welcoming the guests and thanking them for their effort in coming to Hong Kong, vice consul, Charles Macaspac, described them as forming a high powered delegation.

During an open session at the forum, the delegation from Manila was bombarded with questions about deactivation of voters, as well as votes that had not been registered, with several speakers informing the commissioner and his team that even though they had fulfilled all the conditions and voted at the 2013 election, they had still been deactivated.

An attorney from the Office of Overseas Absentee Voting, Maria Juana Valeza, spoke of some hitches that commonly occur in the process; misspelling of names and other possible problems with the old PCOS (Precinct Count Optical Scan) computer system, which Valeza said is being replaced for next year’s election by the Voting Counting Machine system.

However, she did little to quell the simmering frustration, indicating that the technical difficulties experienced are really symptomatic of a much deeper frustration.

Filipinos in Hong Kong have little faith in the electoral process and, since overseas voting began 11 years ago, have prided themselves in conducting a poll free from the violence, corruption, bribery, vote shaving and vote padding, or the Goons, Guns and Gold that typify the electoral season in The Philippines.

The commissioner for the Comelec said that he is well aware that there have been hiccups in the election system in the past, because of historical and cultural reasons, but stressed that his office is dedicated to improving this situation and he believes that the automated voting system is crucial to making progress.

He also spoke about the role that his office is playing in conjunction with the Department of Foreign Affairs to protect the contents of balikbayan boxes sent home by migrant workers, but as a group, people want to send home more than money and gifts.

There has been a constant desire expressed in Hong Kong to send home one big balikbayan box home with one special, precious gift—a clean, fair and uncorrupted election as a testament and witness to the fact that it is possible—and the technical difficulties with registration and deactivation represent a betrayal of that hope, as the box is being tampered with.

Although Lim admitted that the office of the Overseas Absentee Voting is badly under-funded, he said that the process is seen as being vital by the government, as it believes that the input of overseas-based Filipinos is important to the evolution of the whole democratic process.

He added that he is confident that the current budget of 180 million pesos ($32.7 million) will be increased to 300 million pesos ($52.5 million) for the next mid-term election, and that should be adequate to run the operation effectively.

He was emphatic that there is hope for the future. 

The executive assistant to the Comelec, Christopher Eusebio, gave a run down on the latest figures and the history of the Overseas Absentee Voting, pointing out that the total number of registered voters worldwide has been climbing steadily since it was introduced for the 2004 election.

Also the numbers registering prior to each election is steadily rising, with new registrations in all areas well up this year on previous years. Globally, more registered this year than for the inaugural vote in 2004.

Worldwide, over 1.3 million Filipinos have been registered with the greatest number in the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific area, almost doubling the worldwide number since 2013.

Although voter turnout has been relatively low, about 25 per cent have voted at presidential elections and 16 per cent at the mid-term polls, it has risen slightly.

However, the record 64 per cent set at the very first overseas vote in 2004 has never been repeated.

In this, Hong Kong is no different, but the number of registrations continues to rise due to the enthusiastic and dedicated efforts of volunteers and consulate staff in encouraging people to register and exercise their right to vote.

A total of 22,382 new names had been added to the registrar in Hong Kong for the 2016 election up to October 22, greatly helped by the mobile team, which has visited 83 different locations around Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories since May last year.

The team went to churches and locations where Filipino migrant workers tend to gather on Sundays to run the mobile registration, while the consulate office opened a desk during every working day.


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