ABSENTEE VOTING OK FOR IMMIGRANTS

Manila, Jan. 31, 2003 - The House-Senate conference committee finally resolved last night the remaining snag to the approval of the absentee voting law, allowing up to seven million Filipinos overseas to vote in the May 2004 elections.

The breakthrough came after the House contingent acceded to a compromise on the inclusion of immigrants and green card holders under the coverage of the proposed law.

The House opposition to allowing immigrants to vote was the only remaining roadblock to the approval of the law.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said that under the compromise agreement, immigrants and green card holders will be allowed to vote in 2004, but will be required to reestablish their residence in the Philippines within two years. If they could not return, then their names would be stricken off the registry of voters.

Sen. Edgardo Angara, chairman of the Senate committee on suffrage and electoral reforms, stood his ground and insisted that even immigrants and green card holders must be allowed to vote under the principle that all who still hold Filipino citizenship should continue to enjoy all rights and privileges inherent in the citizenship.

Some 2.7 million Filipinos overseas would have been disenfranchised had the House and the Senate failed to hammer out a compromise agreement on his thorny issue. For a while, the two sides appeared to have dug in, and refused to listen to the other side. Registration will be done personally. Voting by mail will be allowed in three countries under a set of criteria. The probable countries are Canada, Japan and United Kingdom, which have efficient mail systems. In other places, voting would be done personally.

After 2004, a congressional oversight committee will conduct a review of the countries where voting by mail is allowed.

"The oversight committee might even expand the number of countries, depending on the recommendations of the Commission on Elections," members of the bicameral panel said.

The final signing of the bill will be Tuesday morning at the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Previous attempts by Congress to flesh out an absentee voting law as mandated by the Constitution had all failed, until now.

Angara said that the law long awaited by the modern-day Philippine heroes is now just a few days away.

President Arroyo and the Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council have both included the proposed absentee voting law as a top legislative priority. The measure has been endorsed by a number of organizations of expatriate Filipinos. (Efren Danao, Star)


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