Sunday, 11 April 2010

Manila Bulletin

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) disclosed that the first day of overseas absentee voting (OAV) went smoothly as the national elections catered to Filipino migrant workers kicked off Saturday in 93 Philippine embassies and consulates general around the world.

It only took overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in Hong Kong less than two minutes to fill out the ballot.

“It has been very easy for our overseas voters,” James Jimenez, Comelec spokesperson, said.

“The average fill-up rate is about a minute and a half which is much faster than the five minutes that we’ve been clocking here in Manila with our various field tests,” he added.

Some 589,830 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) are expected to cast their votes during the 30-day allotment period.

“Overseas Filipinos started to cast their ballots in the Philippine national elections and voting commenced smoothly in the various electoral precincts in the 93 Philippine embassies and consulates general around the world,” DFA Spokesman J. Eduardo Malaya said Saturday.

According to Malaya, the first voter in Hong Kong’s Bayanihan Kennedy town center was Rowena de la Cruz, a domestic helper, who camped out at the center since last Friday afternoon.

Hong Kong, along with Singapore, is the pilot area for the conduct of automated elections due to its large concentration of registered overseas absentee voters.

In Palau, Malaya, citing the report of Consul Vicente Bandillo of the Philippine embassy in Koror, said Noel Reyes, a 36-year-old teacher at the Palau High School, was its first voter when its precinct opened at 8 a.m., local time.

Malaya said there is an expected “high turnout” in the ongoing overseas absentee voting “since the selection will include the next [Philippine] president.”

The Overseas Absentee Voting Secretariat (OAVS) had expressed that there will be more than 60 percent turnout of overseas absentee voters whose votes will be the swinging or deciding factor in the May 10, 2010 elections.

OAVS Vice Chairman Nestor Padalhin had expressed confidence that it will be more than the last OAV election turnout.

Padalhin had noted that the 2004 OAV garnered a 64 percent turnout, while the 2007 mid-term elections only had a 16 percent turnout of votes, stressing that the point of comparison will be the 2004 elections since it was a national election just like in this year.

Out of the 589,830 total number of overseas absentee voters, 568,733 are land-based, and 21,097 are seafarers.

The biggest bulk comes from the Middle East and Africas, comprising of 225,148 voters, followed by countries in Asia- Pacific at 215,546, and North and South America at 66,745.

In Singapore and Hong Kong, where an automated mode of voting will be conducted, 95,355 are registered overseas absentee voters in Hong Kong, while 31,851 are in Singapore.

“It is the biggest so far which could spell a difference through a swing vote or a deciding vote,” Padalhin said.

Except for two voters who failed to cast their votes, no technical glitches were reported by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Jimenez said overseas Filipinos were able to vote without any hitch since they are used to filling out forms such as when they board an airplane.

“When you get on the plane and you get an immigration form, they are already exposed to the idea of boxes that they have to write in. That contributes to it,” he said.

Another factor, Jimenez said, is the high appreciation of migrant workers for new technology.

“Our OFWs are more exposed to these new things so I don’t really find it surprising that their fill-up rate is faster,” he said.

Jimenez, however, reported that the voter turnout on the first day of overseas absentee voting (OAV) was low.

“The turnout was rather low but consular officials in Hong Kong say that it’s something that they expected because they expect the bulk of voters to come tomorrow, Sunday,” he said.

Meanwhile, contrary to reports that the Comelec has no ultraviolet (UV) lamps in foreign poll centers, Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal said elections officials in Hong Kong and Singapore are equipped with UV lamps to authenticate the ballots.

“All teachers and volunteers have UV lamps. When we came here to train the officials, you already have UV lamps here in Hong Kong. Definitely, it’s complete,” the commissioner said.

The UV marks are one of the security features to verify the authenticity of ballots. Other security features include the unique ballot paper, a bar code, Comelec markings, and the unique precinct-based numbers on the ballot. (With a report from Raymund F. Antonio)

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