MANILA, August 14, 2003 (STAR) By Alejandro R. Roces  - Seven and a half million Filipinos live abroad. That is about 10 percent of our population. This was because they could not find jobs in their own country. Now they are one of our biggest dollar producers. They send back about eight billion dollars a year. During the month of June, for instance, our dollar supply goes up. This is because our overseas workers send money to enroll their families to school.

We also have over 300,000 active seamen overseas and about 150,000 more are waiting for their assignments overseas. Our nurses are in great demand abroad. We have 3.09 million as nurses, caregivers not to mention information technologists, engineers, entertainers and domestic helpers. Two million seven hundred and four thousand are permanent residents; those remaining are on irregular status.

Saudi Arabia has the greatest number of overseas Filipino workers. Hong Kong comes second and Japan is third. The rest are scattered in United Arab Emirates, Taiwan, the United States, Malaysia, Singapore and Kuwait. It is rare to meet a Filipino who does not have a friend or relative living abroad.

Now the government has a plan that will allow overseas Filipinos to vote during national elections. One of the main problems they are encountering is how to relay this information to our overseas Filipinos. Presidential Adviser on Overseas Filipino Communities Secretary Heherson T. Alvarez has come up with a very practical solution. The next election is only a few months away. It will be a pity if we wasted the Overseas Voting Act because our countrymen abroad have not been adequately informed that for the first time in history, overseas Filipinos will be able to participate in the local polls.

The suggestion of Secretary Alvarez is that the families of our overseas workers who are the main beneficiaries of the work and sacrifices of our workers abroad take the initiative to inform their distant relatives of Republic Act 9189 known as the Overseas Absentee Voting Act. Alvarez came out with this practical solution after we received official reports that to date only 10,000 overseas workers registered to vote. Of these, 6,172 were from Hongkong, 600 from the United States and Canada and 616 from other Asian nations.

The overseas workers have to register in their respective embassies and consular offices. And the deadline is September 30. That is only about a month and a half away. One big problem is that the embassies and consular places are often quite a distance from the place where the workers reside. They literally have to take a day off from their work and lose a day’s pay just to register.

We urge the families of our overseas workers to heed Secretary Alvarez’s plea to help disseminate the Absentee Voting Law to our overseas workers. They have done so much to improve our economy.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved