Akbayan Representative Walden Bello - Image Source: globalnation.inquirer.net
Akbayan Representative Walden Bello – Image Source: globalnation.inquirer.net

MANILA — Before adjourning for the election campaign, members of Congress approved a bill that would make it easier for overseas Filipinos to cast their ballots and change the way that the country recognizes voters who are abroad.

The House of Representatives ratified last Feb. 6 the amended overseas voting bill. It will be sent to the President for his signature to become a law. The Senate had earlier ratified the bicameral report.

Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello, the bill’s author in the House, said the measure will improve the way the country recognizes the role and contribution of overseas Filipinos to nation-building.[box type=”default” size=”large”] OFWs are no longer called ‘absentee voters’ [/box]The bill will no longer give them the tag “overseas absentee voters” and instead recognize them simply as “overseas voters,” Bello said.

The bill will also make it easier for immigrants to join the electoral exercise, he said.

The bill would remove the provision that requires Filipino immigrants or permanent residents abroad to execute an affidavit that they intend to resume physical permanent residence in the Philippines in three years before they could register as overseas voters.

The new registration rules, however, are expected to take effect in 2016 in time for the elections in that year because the registration period for the 2013 elections ended last year.

“Removing the return requirement will certainly boost the registration of overseas voters, and will make Philippine democracy more inclusive,” Bello said.

The Akbayan lawmaker also said the removal of the tag “absentee” was an emotional matter for Filipino voters abroad. The term creates an “unnecessary distinction” between overseas Filipinos and those in the country, he noted.

“It has this connotation that OFWs and other migrant Filipinos are second-class citizens. It is as if OFWs, by not being in the Philippines, are remiss (in) their duties to their families and to the country, when in fact, working in a foreign country is a major sacrifice on their part to ensure the welfare of their families, and this has consistently served as the saving grace of our economy,” he said.

He added that the label “absentee”should not have been used in the first place, “because we are all Filipinos, wherever we are.” (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

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