OFWS COULD FOOT BILL FOR ABSENTEE VOTING -- GMA

Bait City, Negros Oriental, April 3, 2003 -- President Arroyo on Wednesday 
said government might take organizations of overseas Filipinos on its offer 
to help finance the implementation of the absentee voting.

This as she assured that government will do everything to ensure that 
overseas Filipinos will be able to vote in the 2004 elections amid budget 
constraints.

The Commission on Elections has announced the deferment of registration for 
the overseas voting system.

"We are faced with heavy budget constraints but the government will do its 
best to have our overseas Filipinos fulfill their dream. We are studying 
all options and working with Congress to be able to hurdle these 
constraints," she said.

She said government will tap the resources of the organizations of overseas 
Filipinos that have lobbied for the passage of the absentee voting law.

"Our overseas Filipinos who lobbied hard for this bill said they will do 
their share in the logistics. So now, we have to take them up in their 
offer," she added.

She said she has advanced the release of funds from her contingent fund to 
finance the implementation of the absentee voting.

She said the reason the Comelec deferred the listing is that its officials 
were afraid of being impeached if they use their present budget which was 
not specifically allocated by law for overseas voting.

"In this case, we have to wait for the enactment of the 2003 budget which 
is still being printed," she said.

But even under the new budget law, the Comelec has said that Congress only 
"inserted" P400 million for the absentee voting. The political exercise 
needed P1 billion.

Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos said any amount less than P1 billion would 
be just a waste of money, citing that there are 82 embassies and consular 
offices where the law would be made operational.

Comelec yesterday also said it might lift the suspension of the continuing 
registration by next month, once the poll body installs a modernized voter 
validation system.

"Within the week, if not today or tomorrow, we will announce the winners in 
our bid for a voter validation contract. After this, the system will be put 
in place in less than a month," said Commissioner Resurreccion Borra.

But Abalos said the resumption of registration could come by July or August.

"We just want to be thorough in our processes, so we're waiting for the 
arrival of the validation machines. It would be useless to continue with 
the old system if we cannot gather the necessary data to ensure a clean 
voters' list," Abalos said.

Under the new registration system, the Comelec will adopt the electronic 
photo and biometric system, discarding the old fingerprinting system, which 
Abalos described as "obsolete."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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