OFWS COULD FOOT BILL FOR ABSENTEE VOTING -- GMABait 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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