MANILA, January 22, 2004 (STAR) ROSES AND THORNS By Alejandro R. Roces - We are glad that former Sen. Heherson T. Alvarez has called the attention of the Commission on Election and the Department of Foreign Affairs to take immediate action to insure that our overseas that our overseas workers who had registered under the absentee voting program will be able to participate in this coming May 10 elections. According to the DFAs Overseas Voting Secretariat, 364,000 overseas Filipino workers registered to vote, but only 293,173 of them were actually qualified.

The breakdown of the results of the registration program is as follows: Hong Kong (88,677); Riyadh (41,542); Jeddah (33,217); Singapore (24,009); Al-Khobar (22,783); Kuwait (15,692); Rome (14,543); Abu Dhabi (12,761); Brunei (6,259); Tokyo (6,223); and Athens (5,605).

The reason why Alvarez called the Comelec and DFAs attention to the problem is because of the Supreme Courts decision that forced the Comelec to revert back to manual counting. Prior to that decision, the Comelec was supposed to ship 22 automated counting machines to 15 posts abroad to be operated by 757 Comelec poll personnel. Now Comelec will need 1,587 qualified persons to manually count the votes by our overseas workers.

Alvarez said, "Definitely, we should allow those qualified under the absentee voting program to express their sentiments through their ballots. They will contribute to the intelligent vote because they are professionals and degree holders who have found work abroad because of their skills. No effort should be spared to implement the absentee voting program. If it is scuffled, it would be terribly disappointing for the thousands of Filipinos abroad who made sacrifices just to be able to register for this historic event.

We should do everything to prevent their disfranchisement. Also every precaution should be taken so that the counting of their votes will be above suspicion.

The Overseas Absentee Voting Act known as Republic Act 9189 mandates a 30-day voting period of land-based OFWs from the time of the actual elections in the Philippines while seamen are given 60 days to vote.

The Supreme Court decision that compelled the reversion to manual voting came as a surprise. So the Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs will have to take some drastic measures to insure that our overseas Filipinos will be able to exercise their right to vote.

We commend Heherson T. Alvarez for drawing attention to this problem.

Our overseas workers contribute to much to our economy. They had to go abroad because there are no job opportunities here. Most of them live separated from their families, but every moth they send them their expenses including the support of the education of their children. In a way, they are living heroes. We should honor them annually with a special day dedicated to Filipino Overseas Workers. We doubt if there is a Filipino who does not have a friend or relative working abroad.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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