Manila, Feb. 14, 2003 -- President Arroyo yesterday signed the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 which allows Filipinos living and working abroad to vote starting in the 2004 elections.

Overseas Filipinos may vote for president, vice president, senators and party list representatives. The right does not extend to voting for district representatives and local officials and joining referendums and plebiscites.

Immigrants and permanent residents who wish to vote should execute, upon registration, an affidavit prepared by the Commission on Elections attesting that he will return and live in the Philippines within three years.

Those who have renounced their citizenship and expressed allegiance to their host country are disqualified from voting.

Registrants are required to present their passport.

Among those who witnessed the signing in Malacaņang were Speaker Jose de Venecia, Representatives Apolinario Lozada Jr., Jesli Lapus, Raul Gonzales, Augusto Syjuco and Imee Marcos, Senators Robert Barbers and Edgardo Angara, and Secretaries Patricia Sto. Tomas of labor and Blas Ople of foreign affairs.

Election Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. said Filipinos in Canada, United Kingdom and Japan will be allowed to vote by mail in 2004.

He said the Comelec initially planned to cluster 102 countries into 19 to save on the number of board of election inspectors and canvassers that have to be constituted.

But after consultations with overseas workers, the Comelec decided to send an election board in every country.

He said Congress has provided an initial P1 billion to implement the absentee voting law.

Abalos said Comelec might ask for an additional P1 billion by early next year.

He said at least four to five million of the 7.5 million Filipinos overseas are expected to join next year's polls.

Angara, author of the Senate measure, said the participation of overseas voters is much welcomed because "it will effect a qualitative change" in the elections.

He said most of the voters from abroad are educated, financially independent and "they're influenced by the culture of their host countries and the culture ... and issues and program oriented." (Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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