Manila, Feb. 2, 2003 - After rushing approval of the absentee voting bill, the members of a bicameral committee now face the challenge of looking for funds for its implementation next year.

Rep. Apolinario Lozada (Negros Occidental), author of the House version of the proposed bill, yesterday said panel members who put the finishing touches to the measure did not include the source of funding to implement the bill.

The bill, which allows about 7 million Filipino immigrants and overseas workers to vote in the 2004 elections, was approved by a bicameral committee Friday.

Lozada, who also sat in the bicameral panel, said the proposed law did not contain a budget provision because it would be up to Congress to legislate funding.

He said allocation for the measure will have to go through the approval of the budget or finance committees of both chambers of Congress.

But Lozada said all that is needed is to "insert" a new budget provision in the proposed 2003 budget which would cover absentee voting funding needs.

While the first absentee voting exercise will take place in 2004, Lozada said the Commission on Elections has to prepare as early as this year to ensure the law's successful implementation.

Lozada said among those to be prepared are printing of information materials on the law and holding of training seminars for Comelec and consulate personnel who will play a vital role in the law's implementation.

"Most of the initial expenses will go to the massive information campaign and to trainings and seminars here and abroad," he said.

He said another expense is the bombardment of television and radio "infomercials" in the countries where large concentrations of absentee voters are found.

Lozada said Congress needs to appropriate an additional P1 billion in the 2003 budget for the law's implementation alone.

The House earlier approved the P804.2 billion budget for 2003. It is being deliberated by the Senate.

Senate finance chair Sen. Manuel Villar said what is found in the 2003 budget is only the proposed P2.5 billion modernization funding of Comelec which he said is being considered for a budget slash.

House appropriations chair Rep. Rolando Andaya (Camarines Sur) said the funding could still be tackled in the expected bicameral conference committee on the budget.

"We have not approved a budget on that (absentee voting) but puwede pang ihabol," Andaya said.

The bill is expected to be submitted to both houses of Congress for final approval this week, then transmitted to President Arroyo for her signature.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, a member of the Senate contingent in the bicameral panel, has vowed to oppose ratification of the measure. He said the bill is unconstitutional and has flaws, like its provision allowing Filipino immigrants and "green card" holders to vote without fulfilling the local residency requirement mandated by the Constitution.

Among other salient provisions of the bill are: Absentee voters can vote for president, vice president, senators, and party-list representatives; registration must be done personally; documents other than the passport can be used in registering as a voter, provided some mandatory information and personal details are acceptable; absentee voters will personally cast their votes in Philippine embassies and consulates; voting by mail will be allowed in not more than three countries and upon approval of the Congressional Oversight Committee; and, there will be a mandatory review of the law within two years after the 2004 elections. (Dennis Gadil, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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