Filipinos in Saudi Arabia Asked to Support Signature Campaign for Postal Voting
Julie Javellana-Santos, Arab News
MANILA, 17 November 2006 — If a substantial number of Filipinos in Saudi Arabia support a signature campaign being pushed by various community organizations, Philippine lawmakers may be persuaded to allow voting via mail in the Kingdom.
Addressed to Election Commissioner Florentino Tuason Jr., the official in charge of the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) program, the petition is currently being circulated among Filipinos in the Kingdom who are registered as absentee voters.
Postal registration and voting is currently allowed by the program only in Britain, Japan and Canada during the 2004 Philippine presidential election.
Tuason’s office had earlier asked the committees in the House of Representatives overseeing the OAV law to expand the list to allow postal voting in countries with a big number of Filipinos who are registered absentee voters. Saudi Arabia, however, was being excluded in the list because of concerns over the use of post office boxes instead of physical addresses.
Saudi Arabia is also being excluded in the list of countries where online voting may be allowed. Among the countries mentioned to easily qualify were Italy, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which have a big number of Filipino registered voters using the Internet.
Should these proposals be approved by Congress, Filipinos in Saudi Arabia, who comprise the biggest number of overseas absentee voters, would have again have no other option of casting their ballots in the May 20097 election but to appear personally in authorized voting centers.
The petition initiated by community leader Francis Oca wants the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Manila to also allow postal voting in Saudi Arabia, noting that the far distance between the place of work of many workers from the voting centers discourages participation.
“Voting by mail provides a very good alternative to personal voting, and will surely boost the total number of OFW voters’ participation from the Kingdom,” the petition said.
“Judging from the size of the host country, its local laws and the limited capability of the majority of OFWs to travel long distance, Saudi Arabia should be on top of the list of countries where voting by mail should be allowed,” it said.
The petition debunked worries raised in Manila over the efficiency of the Saudi postal system.
It said the Saudi postal system is just as efficient and reliable as the postal system in many, notably in Europe and North America.
The P.O. Box system which the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia uses is the same system in the UAE. Each company and household owns a postal box number. In companies, a mail person collects the mails regularly, sorts them out and distributes them to the employee-recipients, with ease and efficiency, it said.
“If OAV will be by mail, OFWs can make representations with their management to ensure that mails are collected from the post office every day during the period the mailed ballots from the Comelec are expected to arrive,” it said.
In a separate letter, Oca asked compatriots in the Kingdom to directly fax or e-mail the petition letter to the Comelec as soon as possible.
“It will also be nice to copy furnish our embassy/consulate and Department of Foreign Affairs Overseas Absentee Voting (DFA-OAVS) chair, Ambassador Rafael Seguis.” He saiud.
The petition said OFWs in the Kingdom will ensure that mails for the period covered are closely monitored and more frequently checked by the mail person. “The same approach can also be done by those employed as household help,” it said.
Manuel Amora, chair of the group Kakampi-KSA and secretary-general of the OFW Congress in Riyadh, also sought urgent support for the petition.
“Let us all sign the petition and send it to the Comelec before Congress acts on the proposed changes to the OAV law,” he said in an e-mail to other OFWs.
It was not clear why the petition has not sought online voting, although the Filipino community in Saudi Arabia is said to have a big number of computer-literate members, thanks to the volunteer groups helping train community members not just in using computers and the Internet but even in troubleshooting, assembling computers as well as in programming.
There are slightly more than 100,000 Filipinos in Saudi Arabia who are registered absentee voters, including around 96,000 who registered in 2003 and 7,940 in the current registration, which started last year. Saudi Arabia had the most number of OAV voters in the 2004 Philippine election, followed closely by Hong Kong.