House of Representatives OKs Absentee Voting Bill; Comelec Prepares for 2004 elections.(Main News)
Byline: BEN R. ROSARIO
The House of Representatives last night approved on second reading the Absentee Voting Bill approved earlier by the Senate that would allow some seven million overseas Filipinos to exercise the right to vote as provided for by the Constitution.
House Speaker Jose de Venecia, one of the principal authors of the measure, said he expects the bill to be enacted into law by Congress within the month as he revealed that President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has vowed to sign it into law within 24 hours after it is submitted for her approval.
"I filed this bill when I was speaker of the 10th Congress. Now, we have delivered what our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who have been contributing at least $8 billion annually to the economy have been asking," De Venecia said.
Under House Bill 3570, qualified Filipinos overseas may participate in the election of president and vice president through direct voting in poll centers to be set up in embassies and consular offices of the Philippines in countries where there are concentration of voters.
Absentee voters will also be allowed to cast their votes during plebiscites and referendums on national issues.
The Senate version that was approved last week provides for the casting of votes not only for president and vice president, but also for senators and party-list representatives.
The Senate version also includes a provision allowing voting by mail, which is not in the House version.
The Commission of Elections (Comelec) was practically given the blanket authority to ensure the orderly and honest conduct of polls abroad.
The registration of absentee voters can be made in diplomatic and consular offices not later than 280 days before the date of the election.
Authors of the measure expressed confidence that the House version of the bill has enough provision to safeguard the election process against fraud.
Amendments seeking to include party-list voting and voting for all other elective posts were rejected by the body.
Rep. Ruben Torres (Lakas, Zambales) said that the right of suffrage is "indivisible" and thus should include voting for all elective posts. His proposal was turned down.
Bohol Rep. Eladio Jala, one of the principal authors, said the bill answers all doubts raised by concerned House members with regards to the patching up loopholes of the measure.
"We have decided not to include the election of senators in the absentee balloting measure because this would make the conduct of the election extremely difficult. Nevertheless, I am very much satisfied with the outcome of the bill," he said.
House Senior Deputy Minority Leader Constantino Jaraula Jr. congratulated his colleagues for responding to the urgent call for the passage of the absentee voting bill.
"I am happy with the final passage of the bill which went through a long process. This fulfills the constitutional mandate to make available the right to vote to our OFW who are constrained to leave their families due to economic needs," Jaraula said.
According to Jaraula, the approved House version has more "protective features" that would safeguard the sanctity of the ballot. …