Filipino diplomats encourage turnout

Filipino diplomats from the Middle East and Africa gathered in the capital yesterday at the start of a three-day poll briefing for overseas absentee voters.

ABU DHABI // Filipino diplomats from embassies in the Middle East and Africa gathered in the capital over the weekend to prepare for overseas absentee voting that will take place next month. Filipinos can vote at the embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai from April 10 to May 10, the day of the election. "We have been luring people to register and vote in the presidential elections," said Lucenito Tagle, an official at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Manila, who attended the briefing in the capital. "We wanted to hit at least one to two million overseas absentee voters, but we only reached about 750,000 all over the world."

The Comelec commissioner said the diplomats were briefed on the conduct, counting and canvassing, or consolidation, of the voting. "They have to report and transmit results to Manila every day during the one-month voting period," he said. "Of course, there will be days when no one will vote." Overseas absentee voters can vote for president, vice president, 12 senators and a party-list representative, which represents certain sectors.

Participants in the training will form the electoral boards in the foreign service posts they represent. Automated voting would be conducted in Hong Kong and Singapore, because of the large concentration of Filipinos registered there, Mr Tagle said. "There are not too many overseas absentee voters here in the UAE," Mr Tagle said. "If automated absentee voting in Singapore and Hong Kong is successful, we intend to implement it in all diplomatic posts for the next elections."

From February 1 to August 31 last year, 5,104 Filipinos in Abu Dhabi and 12,379 in Dubai registered as absentee voters. Another 35,304 had previously registered for the 2004 and 2007 elections. Earlier this month, Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, asked community leaders to encourage early voting to avoid long queues at the embassy towards the end of the voting period. Voters must present a valid passport, or other identification with their name, signature and photograph, to a special board of election inspectors, then fill out a ballot and cast a vote.

Before proceeding to the embassy, voters must check to see if their names are on the certified list of overseas absentee voters on the Comelec website,