INTERNET REGISTRATION AND VOTING TO EMPOWER GLOBAL FILIPINOS
Legislators have filed Senate Bill #3565 that would, inter alia, authorize Internet voter registration and voting. The bill amends R.A. No. 9189, otherwise known as Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Act of 2003. The authors of the bill are Senators Angara, Escudero (Committee Chair), Gordon, Pimentel, Santiago and Villar. The bill is ready to be heard and debated on.
The passage of the bill represents a quantum breakthrough in empowering millions of overseas Filipinos by allowing them to exercise their suffrage right in a convenient way. The present system of voter registration and voting requires physical presence at Philippine consulates – a stipulation that has hampered the ability of many Filipinos to register and vote.
A large number of Filipino population concentrations reside in areas that are far removed from the consulate sites. In many cases, potential voters have to invest more than one day to reach the nearest consulate. Delinking voter registration and voting from consulate sites frees up the time that overseas Filipinos would otherwise spend in registration and voting under existing law.
The registration and voting turnout during the national elections of 2004 and 2007 could have yielded significantly higher results had more voter-responsive modes of registration and voting been made available. Additionally, a paper-less and non-physical site registration and voting would relieve the Department of Foreign Affairs and Commission on Elections of tasks and logistics that are considered burdensome.
Section 6 of SB #3565 provides that, in addition to the use of biometrics: “Remote registration through the Internet may also be allowed based on the guidelines and procedures determined by the commission, provided that the appropriate technology will ensure adequate security and voter authenticity”. During the public hearings on the bill, experts clarified the highly secure elements of Internet registration, including the use of the (1) passport number as voter-unique identification that cannot be replicated by anyone else, and (2) voice metrics that likewise is unique to a particular voter. (Italics and underscoring supplied.)
As for Internet voting, Section 30 of the bill stipulates: “Authority to adopt other modes or systems using automated election system notwithstanding current procedures and systems hereon provided, for the proper implementation of this act and in view of the peculiarities attendant to the overseas absentee process, the commission may explore and adopt other more efficient, reliable and secure modes or systems, whether paper, electronic technology, or internet-based, for onsite and remote registration and voting, counting, canvassing and consolidation of votes, as well as for the transmittal of results.” (Italics and underscoring supplied.)
Genesis of Initiatives
Global Filipino Coalition (GFC), a predecessor organization of Global Filipino Nation (GFN), initiated its advocacy for Internet registration and voting after the 2004 registration and elections. GFC’s international conference held in the Philippine Senate premises in 2005 referred to the need for Internet registration and voting. The initiative was in response to the complaints of overseas Filipinos overseas about the requirement of physical presence for voter registration and voting.
The issue of distance from Philippine consulates and the mobility of global Filipinos hindered their ability to exercise their suffrage. In collaboration with different groups, GFN pursued without let-up steps leading to the adoption of Internet registration and voting. In 2007, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) carried out pilot e-voting in Singapore.
Drawing on the resources and previous efforts of Global Filipino Coalition and Global Filipino Forum (an international initiative that focused on past Charter change issues), GFN held international conferences in July 2007 and May 2008, which included, among others, recommendations relating to the adoption of Internet registration and voting. The GFN Political Module Logical Framework incorporates the adoption of Internet voter registration as a key element in politically empowering global Filipinos. Subsequent to those conferences, GFN submitted appropriate recommendations to Comelec and Congress.
GFN participated in the drafting of the new bill as part of the Technical Working Group under the Committee on Constitutional Amendments chaired by Sen. Chiz Escudero. IT Specialist Mr. Ernie del Rosario provided expert inputs in the deliberations, in active collaboration with GFN. Mr. Victor S. Barrios, GFN Convenor, and Mme. Connie Gomez-Valdes, GFN Deputy Executive Director, interfaced with the authorities during the entire process. After undergoing a series of deliberations, Senate bill #3565 incorporated GFN’s proposal on the use of Internet registration and voting.
Elimination of Affidavit to Return
Senate Bill #3565 introduces another significant aspect of the existing OAV law that removes a perceived past demotivation on the part of global Filipino voters. In particular, the bill eliminates the clause on the intent for immigrants abroad to return to the Philippines three years after voter registration. Mme. Ellene Sana of the Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA) successfully focused on this issue.
Initiatives of Other Leaders
Other organizations and leaders were involved in the revisions of different sections of the OAV law designed to enhance the exercise of suffrage by global Filipinos. Mme. Etta Rosales of Akbayan and Mr. Noel Esquela, also of CMA, provided significant inputs during the technical discussions and Committee hearings.
Truly Continuing Registration
Future public hearings on the bill could revisit a previous recommendation to institutionalize truly continuing Internet voter registration, i.e., 24/7/365 voter registration that is uninterrupted rather than restricted to a limited period of time. Voter registration in many other countries is a year-round activity. Since DFA and Comelec onsite personnel and logistics intervention are not needed for Internet voter registration, the process of registering voters should be a 365-days/year activity.
About one million OFWs leave for abroad every year. The net for registering voters could cover a much wider universe if voter registration for overseas Filipinos is uninterrupted rather than carried out only once every three years.
Comelec could provide for an appropriate cutoff date for eligibility of overseas voters to vote in a given election. That arrangement would allow for adequate Comelec internal preparations for that given election, without stopping the Internet voter registration process. Voters who register after the prescribed cutoff date would be eligible to vote only in the succeeding election.
Moving Forward Together
The global Filipino community welcomes the role of Filipino leaders and organizations all over the world to be actively involved in ensuring that Congress will, in the end, pass Senate Bill #3565. Only then would it be possible for global Filipinos to be empowered in a forceful and consequential way.
Global Filipino Nation is an organization of global Filipino leaders and organizations committed to the goal of “Building the Global Filipino Nation for Good Governance”.
For inquiries and interest in collaborating on Senate Bill #3565, please contact Connie Gomez Valdes, Deputy Executive Director, 2240 Chino Roces, Barangay Bangkal, Makati City, Philippines, +632.726.1697, +63.917.528.1323.