ABSENTEE VOTING THREATENED BY LACK OF FUNDS

Manila, April 2, 2003 -- Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos warned yesterday 
that the Absentee Voting Law (AVL) would not be implemented unless the poll 
body receives a P1 billion budget for the new voting scheme.

Abalos said the budget of P400 million which Congress "inserted" in the AVL 
is not enough to make operational the 82 embassies and consular offices for 
absentee voting.

"We have been asking Congress to indicate in the law the P1 billion budget 
we need. We were later surprised to find out that Congress inserted only 
P400 million in the law," Abalos said.

Abalos said the lack of funds shows poor planning in the drafting of the AVL.

"It's like planning a Manila to Baguio trip and you have only enough 
gasoline to reach Pampanga," he said.

Worse, Abalos said the P400 million has yet to reach the Comelec, despite 
plans to have the registration of Filipinos abroad begin next month.

"Overseas absentee voting is not feasible at this time because we have not 
received a single centavo for its implementation," Abalos said.

He said the P1-billion budget will be used by the Comelec to acquire and 
train new personnel, acquire separate equipment-like counting machines-as 
well as disseminate notices in various countries which will play host to 
absentee voting.

"In Canada, for instance, you need to pay $26,000 to post a notice," he said.

Abalos said the Comelec tried to negotiate with the Department of Budget 
and Management for a supplementary budget of P600 million, but this was 
later turned down owing to the country's budget deficit.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs is also wincing at the expenses 
for the AVL. Abalos said the DFA had asked for P350 million for the first 
year of the AVL's implementation to enable it to computerize its embassies 
and consular posts and verify passports of those who will register.

The DFA only got P100 million, which will be sourced from the Comelec's 
P400 million budget for AVL.

The AVL was signed into law last February, to allow around 7 million 
Filipinos abroad to cast their votes in the 2004 elections.

The Comelec approved yesterday the 54-page implementing rules and 
regulations of the AVL.

One of its provisions is to conduct a registration of qualified Filipino 
voters abroad beginning May 5.

Elections Commissioner Florentino Tuason, who chairs the Comelec committee 
on absentee voting, said, "the registration would have to be called off 
until we get the funds we need." (By ARESTI TANGLAO, Malaya)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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