14 days not enough — Fil-Can groups
14 days not enough — Fil-Can groups
Extension of voting registration for overseas Filipinos
By Veronica Silva Cusi
The Philippine Reporter
Migrant advocates in Canada are saying that the extension for overseas registration is not enough unless diplomatic posts carry out outreach missions to cities or regions hours away from the nearest Philippine posts.
A day before the deadline for registration for overseas absentee voting (OAV) was to end, the Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) extended OAV registration up to Oct. 14.
Citing Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez, Philippine media reported on Sept 29 that the constitutional body did not offer a reason for the extension.
But even with the extension, some groups in Canada said it doesn’t count for much. In Canada, the extension is only nine business days, as October 11 is Thanksgiving Day.
“The extension of OAV sounds good, but it’s not enough,” Migrante Canada vice-chair Danilo de Leon told The Philippine Reporter in an email reply. “OAV should be done during the consulate office outreach program, and the government of the Philippines should put more funds for consulate offices so that the Filipinos should have better access to the registration system.”
One challenge is distance to consular offices and the availability of services beyond work hours of kababayans (compatriots). De Leon explained that many Filipinos do not live near the consular offices — in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver — and the embassy in Ottawa. De Leon said that there are many Filipinos in Fort McMurray, Yellowknife, and Saskatchewan, which are hours away from the nearest consular offices.
Some Filipinos would have to skip their work for a day or two to avail of consular services. Some of them won’t even go to foreign posts unless the purpose is passport renewal, De Leon added.
“Even if they extend it to two or three months, everything will not be alright if they don’t reach out to remote places where most Filipinos live,” De Leon added.
Several groups representing migrant workers, or overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), and overseas Filipinos have asked the Comelec, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and Congress to extend registration due to COVID-10 lockdowns.
In a letter dated to Philippine Rep. Juliet Ferrer, chairperson of the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reform, and committee members, Migrante International raised concerns by members from all over the world.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in policies of lockdowns, border and travel restrictions in many parts of the world which continue up to today,” said Migrante International in the letter dated Sept 1. “Philippine embassies and consular offices in various countries have also limited their days and hours of operations for the past year and a half, thus limiting the number of people they serve each day, making it difficult for those who want to register to vote.”
“Filipinos who live far from their embassies/consulates, especially OFWs who lack access to transportation and have limited resources will be encouraged to participate and vote if there are closer locations they can easily access to,” the letter read.
Other groups, including Global Pinoy Diaspora Canada and Malaya Movement in Canada, joined other kababayans worldwide in a letter asking for an extension to Oct. 31. The letter was addressed to Comelec and the DFA.
Treenee Lopez, chair of Global Pinoy Diaspora Canada, even wonders why the extension was for only 14 days when registration in the Philippines continues for the entire month of October.
“Why do we have from Oct 1 – 14 when in fact dito sa abroad, di naman the same ang situation sa Pilipinas kung saan nag-pa-file ng candidacy sa Pilipinas (the situation in the Philippines is different from the situation abroad. In the Philippines, candidates are filing their certificates of candidacy),” said Lopez in an interview from Vancouver, B.C.
The signatories likewise asked for more offsite or mobile registration sites “to allow voters in far-flung areas to register.” They also asked that registration venues “open on all days to accommodate everyone, especially OFWs, who might not be off work when the registration centers are open.”
The extension was an indication that Philippine leaders listened to the appeals of concerned Filipinos.
Erie Maestro, coordinator of 1Sambayan Canada Chapter, told TPR that if Filipinos in the Philippines and around the world had not demanded for an extension, registration would have been over.
“We were happy to add the voices of overseas Filipino workers and overseas Filipinos in Canada with that of the youth and other groups in the Philippines …, which was supported by Philippine Congress,” added Maestro.
1Sambayan was one of the groups that have earlier petitioned Comelec for an extension of the registration. Though Maestro said they did not specify a date for the extension.
The reply of PCG Vancouver is in boldface, yellow highlight towards the end of the story.
Since the draft is now longer, I suggested two sentences (in red) that could be deleted.
The Philippine foreign posts in Canada conduct outreach missions to serve Filipinos where they are. These missions include passport renewal, dual citizenships, and more services. With OAV, which officially started in December 2019, some of these missions include OAV registration.
In a reply to 1Sambayan last Aug 14, Comelec said that despite the pandemic, consulates in Vancouver and Toronto have already done several field registration activities since July 2020. But Comelec also noted that some scheduled field registrations had to be cancelled due to “pandemic-related travel restrictions.”
The Philippine Reporter reached out to all consulates and the Embassy in Ottawa to find out if there will be more outreach missions given the extension.
The Philippine Embassy in Ottawa replied on Sept 30: “Filipino citizens who wish to register may do so at the Philippine Embassy in Ottawa or at their nearest Philippine Consulate General. They may also register at Mobile Consular Outreach Missions should one be in their area during this time. There is no requirement for a prior appointment to register as an overseas voter.”
“If qualified voters do not and cannot register, then they cannot exercise their right to vote in the May 2022 elections,” said Maestro, in the letter to Comelec. “Overseas Filipinos will register and vote when the barriers and challenges are taken away. We want our votes to be counted for the May 2022 Philippine elections.”
The Vancouver Philippines Consulate General said in a reply to TPR “there are no more plans to conduct field or mobile registrations.”
“These requests are prepared way in advance to obtain the necessary clearance and funding and so there is no more time to adjust our plans,” said the email from deputy consul general Arlene T. Magno.
She added that the consulate has conducted several weekend mobile registrations in various cities in anticipation of the Sept 30 deadline.
“We also made sure that all our consular outreach missions (to Victoria, Prince George, Kelowna, Terrace, Dawson Creek, Fort St. John, and Whitehorse for the year were completed before the end of the registration period so that Filipinos in far-away areas could also be registered. The only place we were not able to go was in Yellowknife, NWT due to the worsening COVID incidents over the last few weeks, forcing us to postpone our trip there,” Magno added.
To help kababayans register, 1Sambayan and Global Pinoy Diaspora Canada organized an outreach with the Philippine Consulate in Vancouver last August at the St. Mary’s Parish in South Hill, which has a migrant ministry.
Aside from helping organizing outreach missions, Pinoy groups have also been doing education outreach. But they said they were able to do outreach only this year because of COVID-19 lockdowns. They added that vaccinations in Canada didn’t go mainstream until this year.