The Marcos Burial: Why I don’t care anymore

marcos-burialWhat is happening today is the product of a long time of neglect by our government and society. This time, today, is the boiling point. It is where everything goes down the drain.

In the first place, it was also Cory Aquino who lifted the ban to return the body of Marcos to the Philippines in 1991. In Fidel Ramos’s time, a memorandum was even signed to return Marcos’s remains to the country. This flip-flopping of decisions and governance gave a lot of headaches. Why gave in to the family of a deposed leader? And why were there no rallies to oppose them in those times? The cancer was in its first stage.

The Jejomar Binay recommendation to bury the body in Batac could have also sealed the issue once and for all. But it was ruled down by the former President. The indecisiveness and the political plays by our former leaders gave way to this present event. Until a leader like Duterte, once and for all, decided to put the final nail in the coffin. To silence those who only choose to blabber and complain. And no one but the Supreme Court concurred with him.

It was a good strategy for the Executive to throw the issue to the Highest Court. And who will dare question the wisdom of nine (9) justices against five (5). The question of law was legally resolved. What are raised now are emotions and questions of morality.

I myself am not agreeable (morally, emotionally). But I don’t care anymore because our former leaders and our “proactive” society did not do their jobs well.

The result explains their actions.

Why the Philippines need Leni Robredo as its Vice President

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I have always been of the opinion that the vice president position is a spare tire. Especially when the winner comes from a political party different from that of the president. I think that the framers of our present constitution were so stigmatized by martial law that they allowed opposing party’s candidate to independently get a chance to bag the position. This is in case the president again turned into a tyrant and is deposed.

In the contrary, I however admire the block voting format for both the president and the vice president. If the president could not finish his term, then the vice president, coming from the same party and political platform could continue the projects and programs started by his predecessor. However the setback could be, if the vice president is not a party-mate and would not cooperate with the president, he will be without any cabinet position and will remain as a gentleman or lady in waiting, wasting our tax-money in the process.

With all these in my mind, there could be no chance that I would vote for Robredo. And indeed I did not. I wanted constancy of policies. And I did block voting. But right now, I wish I had voted for her.

Several days ago, I happened to watch again the interviews on Leni and had read some articles about her. I came to realise that among the pool of candidates for the position, she has the cleanest and the most humble background, a rare plight for a person in the legal profession nowadays. But to top it all, what I like about her is that she has the charisma to stop Bong Bong Marcos from getting the second highest position in the land.

Having been taught TRUE history by some of the great minds of the State University in Diliman, I never dwindled from my academic beliefs or doubted the fact that the Marcoses’ plunged the Philippines into the dark ages. Not only did the family pillaged the coffers of the country, or tortured people who were against their rule, they also created in government a system of corruption which later permeated into the very fabric of society and everyday living. And that’s the reason why I hate each one of them.

Bong Bong’s election into the vice presidency would likewise drive the country into a quandary. Even now, the hairline gap in the counts would put into question the moral and socio-cultural values of Filipinos in the international stage. Why still vote for the family that placed you in shame and misery?

The millennials may have a different perspective of what happened in the 70’s and 80’s. But throwing remarks that absolutely contradicts the state of the nation and the fate of the people living in that era are insults to our history. Maybe our education system has failed to educate our young minds about our past.

Bong Bong’s pronouncement that a Leni victory will thwart a Duterte presidency was self-serving. He wanted to rally Duterte’s supporters to his personal ambition. However, Duterte’s remarks in the later days would show that he prefers Leni to be his vice president. It is undeniable that he still clings to the struggle and ideals of his late mother that supported the ouster of Bong Bong’s father. The reason is evident in not choosing the latter as his running mate.

From playing behind the scenes of her late husband, the reluctant mother was forced into the limelight by the administration’s desperation to bag a seat in the new government. But looking into her, Leni is not just any woman to contend with. She has the qualities of a true statesman. She is firm and can withstand pressures from all sides – even from her party mates. If given the chance to prove herself. She could very well be our next president in 2022.

 

 

Women’s Rights: Focus on the VAWC Law

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Last April, I was invited by the Philippine Embassy here in Singapore to give a lecture to on Women’s Rights. Since it was a last minute notice, I had to hurriedly rummage through my old notes (and of course Google) so that I could  come out with something substantial and coherent to present. During my lawyering years in the Philippines, I was not really directly involved in any activities or legislation concerning Women’s Rights. Although, I handled some criminal cases on bigamy, concubinage and qualified seduction when I was still practicing privately, I do not think I can already call myself an expert on the subject. As HR Director of an exclusive and high-end highland resort (just like the Genting Highlands) in the Philippines, I managed to remove from office two high level managers for rape and sexual harassment offenses.

Two months ago, my second cousin sought my help to track down the work address and contact numbers of her husband in Brunei who refused to send them enough remittances. The husband sends only 50% of his basic income to her. Their children are all minors and all are still studying. She was fortunate however with the help of Facebook, to catch her husband’s infidelity when he unintentionally posted a picture of his mistress online. The husband and mistress are both are working in Brunei. I managed to get the husband’s work contact numbers and gave them to her. She immediately called the Brunei employer and reported her husband’s infidelity and the fact that she was not being sent enough support. The employer however brushed aside her complaint and told her that the company does not involve itself with personal matters.

One of the most common problems after or during an impending marriage break up is actually support. Most men tend to renege from their obligations to their children as parents by failing to send or give them money for their daily sustenance and education, especially if most or all of their kids are still minors. Ten years ago, the only judicial relief of wives and women (who were not married) were to file a civil case of support against their husbands or the fathers of their children. However, considering the unusual length of time and sum of money one has to spend during trials and hearings, most women end up without having any relief.

Aware of the situation, Congress passed Republic Act 9262 in 2004. The law was officially called, “An Act Defining Violence Against Women and their Children, Providing for Protective Measures for Victims, Prescribing Penalties Therefore, and For Other Purposes”.  Since it was a mouthful, it was given the initials VAWC or also known as the “Violence Against Women and Children” law. It is already ten years old but most Filipinos, especially women, have no idea what the law brings.

Maybe the most salient feature of the law is classifying several acts that were once deemed only to be civil in nature as now criminal. Take for example the case of failing to give support. The VAWC law already classifies the refusal of the husband to send monetary support to his wife and children as a violent act. It says that withdrawal of financial support is considered economic abuse, and economic abuse is classified by this law to be a violent act against women and their children. As compared to the wife’s relief of a civil action for support ten years ago, economic abuse under VAWC is a criminal act. It is worth noting that the law does not discriminate whether the woman is married to the man. It focuses not on the relationship but on the abuse that happens to the woman  and the children, which arises from the relationship.

Economic Abuse or any violent act against women and children under the VAWC could be filed with the prosecutor’s office without cost and even without the need of a lawyer. If the prosecutor finds merit or probable cause, he will file it with the court and an ensuing warrant of arrest will be issued. A hold departure order (HDO) and/or cancellation of passport may then be requested from the Court by the wife or the offended woman. In almost all cases, the husbands or the fathers of the wives and children are compelled to give in to the demand of support for fear of being imprisoned, and additionally if working abroad, for fear of being deported upon cancellation of his passport. One recent example of the application of this law is the criminal case filed by Derek Ramsay’s wife against him with the Makati Prosecutor’s Office for failing to support their son.

One interesting provision of this law is classifying as criminal the act of “causing mental or emotional anguish, public ridicule or humiliation to the woman or her child”. One frequent venue for this act is the social media. The posting of photos and comments on Facebook of extra-marital affairs that causes mental torture and humiliation to the wife and/or her children falls under this provision. A Filipina Kababayan once told me that her husband posted on Facebook a photo of him and his mistress kissing. I advised her that the act may accurately fall under this particular paragraph of the law. The husband may be liable criminally. Countless possible applications may fall under this definition of a violent act.

A good reading of the law would reveal numerous provisions safeguarding the welfare of women and children. Some lawyers would often exaggerate their applications and would try to cover all cases under the sunBut one good thing happened for sure under this law. It gives women more rights to uphold and defend themselves. The only thing that is left to be done is how to spread it for everyone to know.

 

 

 

Divorce in the Philippines

divorceI sometimes give free legal advises to Kababayans here in Singapore through phone calls. I observe that most problems consulted with me concern marital affairs. This is not uncommon with husbands and wives who are far apart from each other, especially if one lives in Singapore and the other in the Philippines.

What strikes me most is – the issues consulted with me deal with the intention of either the husband or the wife filing “divorce” back home. What is funny is these people wanted only to sign agreements with their spouses to end their marriage. They sometimes request me to file the so-called agreement with a government agency in the Philippines. I would often laugh at how uninformed our Kababayans are of our laws even at present times. I may attribute the blame to my fellow lawyers who oftentimes prefer to leave out explanation to these needy people during consultations and would directly proceed to the remedies they had in mind, most of which ends up in court.

Unlike Singapore and other western countries, the Philippines does not have western-style divorce. If we mean “divorce” as the the process where both husband and wife would hire lawyers and agree before a government body to end their marriage, then there indeed is no divorce in the Philippines. I believe it would be even difficult for Congress to pass a law on divorce on mere compromise of husbands and wives alone, unless maybe the Constitution is amended. It is because our present Constitution would not allow it to happen. Our Constitution mandates (Article XV, Section 2) that “Marriage, as an inviolable social institution, is the foundation of the family and shall be protected by the State.” The important words in this provision are “inviolable” and “protected”. “Inviolable” means that marriage should “not be broken”. And it should be “protected” by the State from being broken, even by the spouses themselves.

It means that marriage in the Philippines could not be broken, or terminated, or severed by anyone or anything. This includes the agreement between the husband and the wife to end it. One may argue that marriage is only a contract, and like any other contract, one or both of the parties may terminate it. In its basic sense, marriage is indeed a contract. But in the Philippines, it is not considered as ordinary. Basing on the declaration of the Constitution, former President Corazon Aquino passed the Family Code of the Philippines in 1987 through an Executive Order. This law declares that marriage is not an ordinary agreement but a special contract where the State has a special interest. It is through marriage that a family is created, and the Family is considered the most basic social institution. Several families or group of families comprise the Barangay and Barangays constitute a Municipality, and so on and so forth. This law, which embodies the mandate of the Constitution, stipulates that break-up of marriage through whimsical decisions would entail an adverse effect on family relations.

However for every rule there is always an exception. The Family Code does not only declare what a marriage should be but also provides the grounds or reasons why a marriage may be terminated. The law tells that a marriage may also be severed based only on the grounds it enumerates. Other than those it provides, marriage could not be dissolved. The Family Code tells us of two modes a husband and wife can part ways. One is annulment where after it is granted marriage is totally voided, and both husband and wife can marry again. The other is legal separation where the marriage is not broken. The husband and wife remain married but they can legally live apart, and can manage their properties separately.

The grounds for the two modes totally differ from each other. The basic grounds for annulment are: marriage before eighteen (18) years of age; marriage between the age of eighteen (18) and twenty-five (25) without either of the parents’ consent; mental illness at the time of marriage; fraud (which includes sexually transmissible disease) unknown to the other party during marriage; and intimidation, undue influence, and physical violence forcing the other to marry (“shot-gun marriage”). The grounds for legal separation, on the other hand, are: repeated physical violence and grossly abusive conduct during marriage, imprisonment of one of the spouse to more than six (6) years; drug addiction or habitual alcoholism; homosexuality or lesbianism; sexual infidelity or perversion; attempt on the life by one spouse against the other; and abandonment by one of the spouse for more than one year without cause.

Comparison of the two shows that most of the grounds for annulment should be present before and during the wedding. It means that the husband or the wife must be tricked or compelled to marry. While grounds for legal separation may start to manifest after the wedding, it does not however mean that marriage can already be annulled when grounds for legal separation were present before the wedding. So, even if the husband is a homosexual, and such was unknown to the wife before the wedding, but was made known to her only during marriage, she could not use it as a ground to annul her marriage. The same principle goes to lesbianism, alcoholism, drug addiction, or perversion.

But the Family Code, since it is an amendment to the Civil Code on Marriage, added a new ground to annul an existing marriage. This is the famous “psychological incapacity” ground. Article 36 of the Code provides that “A marriage contracted by any party who, at the time of the celebration, was psychologically incapacitated to comply with the essential marital obligations of marriage, shall likewise be void even if such incapacity becomes manifest only after its solemnization.” This provision of the law tells us that a marriage is void or invalid when one of the spouse was psychologically incapacitated to perform his or her marital obligations before and at the time of the wedding, even if such incapacity only manifested after the ceremony.

Psychological incapacity in the early years of the Code, covered a wide range of definitions. It is undeniable that the phrase is somewhat vague and its construction tends to be subjective. In 1997, the Supreme Court, in the Molina Case, came into the picture and set, once and for all, the definition of psychological incapacity to erase all doubts about its meaning. The High Court ruled that in order for a ground to be considered as “psychological incapacity”, the incapacity must be present during the wedding; it must be medically or clinically permanent or incurable; and it must be grave enough to assume the essential obligations of marriage. Mild character peculiarities, mood changes, occasional emotional outbursts, or incompatibilities cannot be considered as incapacities. After this ruling, the process of annulment based on this ground became difficult to achieve.

The hurdle to annul a marriage in the Philippines even though the grounds exist starts with its filing. Other countries treat marriage as a contract, thus, divorce is granted when the spouses agree on it. The lengthy discussion would only then center on the partition of properties, the custody of children, how much will each spouse contribute to the support and education of the children, and other ownership and possession issues. In the Philippines, since it is illegal for spouses to agree on annulling their marriage, the main question focuses on whether, before anything else, the State would permit the marriage to be annulled.

The process starts when the husband or the wife goes to court to file a petition to annul the marriage. The spouse filing the petition will be called the petitioner and the opposing spouse the respondent. The petitioner must give a copy of the petition to the respondent. Without proof that respondent received a copy of the petition, the case could not continue.

It is also a must that the Office of the City or Provincial Prosecutor and the Office of the Solicitor General should receive copies of the petition to annul. The prosecutor as well as the Solicitor General will check whether the annulment was not agreed upon by the spouses. The case could not continue if they found that the spouses connive or collude to file the case. The court will allot at least six (6) months from the filing of the petition until the first formal proceeding to give time to the spouses to reconcile, if possible.

In any civil case, the non-appearance or the failure to answer by the defendant or respondent would declare him in default. It means he could not anymore present his side in court, and the petitioner would most likely win. But this process does not apply in annulment or legal separation cases. It is because in most of these cases, the respondent husband or wife often does not appear in court, especially when there was already a secret agreement between the spouses to annul the marriage. The non-appearance of the respondent will not place him in default. The city or provincial prosecutor as representative of the State will subject the petitioner and his witnesses to cross-examination to determine for the court whether there is truth in the filing of the case. It is also the duty of the prosecutor or the Solicitor General to appeal the case to a higher tribunal if they are oppose or not satisfied with the court’s ruling in granting the annulment. This duty of the prosecutor and the Solicitor General is in line with the mandate of the Constitution to protect marriage from dissolution.

Some Filipino women who were divorced by their Singaporean husbands here in Singapore sought help on how to annul their marriage in the Philippines. Any Filipino must understand that Philippine laws on marriage apply to Filipino citizens even when they are living abroad, so long as they do not lose their citizenship. So, if a Singaporean and a Filipino citizen marry each other, they are considered married under Philippine laws even if they live in Singapore. The Singaporean is also married to the Filipino under Singapore laws. Since Singapore allows divorce, any divorce granted to the spouses in Singapore is valid and legal under Singapore laws. But the situation is different in the Philippines. Although the spouses are divorced in Singapore, the Filipino is still considered married to the Singaporean in the Philippines.

This case however is not without remedy for the Filipino wife or husband. Article 26 of the Family Code states that, “Where a marriage between a Filipino citizen and a foreigner is validly celebrated and a divorce is thereafter validly obtained abroad by the alien spouse capacitating him or her to remarry, the Filipino spouse shall have capacity to remarry under Philippine law.” 

What the Filipino should do is secure a copy of the divorce papers and decree in Singapore, and have them authenticated by the Philippine Embassy. Thereafter, he must file a petition in the Philippines with the regular courts to declare the nullity of his marriage there. The procedure on regular annulment of marriage I discussed will not be followed. All he needs is to prove that a divorce occurred in Singapore and that the laws of Singapore allow his spouse to remarry. Our courts will then issue a decree nullifying his marriage in the Philippines and the partition of the conjugal properties.

A number of bills were already passed in Congress to enact laws on divorce but none of them even reach third reading. It is because Congress also fears that even if the law is passed, it will be stricken down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Unless our Constitution is amended to allow divorce, this process will only still remain a dream.

Smörgåsbord of Insights (2013)

As I scanned through some of my Facebook posts, I thought I should share some of them not only to my circle of friends but to others as well. I do not claim correctness in all of these tidbits, but I thought quite hard before I wrote them. These are some of my perceptions of the current facts.

On Liberation Theology

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I came across the idea of Liberation Theology during my college days when a fraternity brother who was a former member of the LFS in UP, and who entered the Franciscan order raised it with me during a conversation. I could still remember discussing and agreeing with him a theological concept that was at that time somewhat new and foreign to me. Although I came from the minor seminary, theology or its variations are not yet taught in high school.

Years of study at the State University catered me with several ideologies that I could not easily digest, especially when some of your professors from the Social Sciences and Philosophy would feed you inputs and require you to watch movies laced with left-leaning themes. I had watched an array of films and plays, and complied with the reaction papers that we were obliged to submit.

One that struck a chord out of me was the film about Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He was a bishop and a proponent of Liberation Theology. He was assassinated most probably by the government. That was after he celebrated mass. It seemed doleful for a modern-day crusader and clergyman who fought for social injustice and inequality to end his life that way. Hate against oppressive regimes came next and the call for revolution as the cure to injustice were then the only answers to me to level off political and social inequalities. One that also befuddled me was Romero’s interpretation and use of Christ’s mission of liberating man out of sin. I always thought it to be spiritual, but he is suggesting more of a political one.

My maturity and my introduction to reason and deeper Catholic faith has led me to believe that Liberation Theology has somewhat went beyond the borders of Catholic teachings. Jesus Christ came into the world not to instill political and social order but to direct man spiritually and away from sin. He came to change the spiritual and not the temporal order.

I believe that social injustice, inequalities, wars, famines, and catastrophes should not be hated. They are the will of God. They bring sufferings. And to suffer is a gift, an opportunity to bring yourself closer to Him, regardless of whether you are poor or rich.

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On Public School Textbooks

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Books in public schools should not be bid out. The government should not compromise education with low quality books and instructional materials which usually are the result of public bidding.

What if books that are of good quality and authored by renowned and good authors are printed only by a certain publishing company. And these authors or publishing will never join the bid, then these quality books will never arrive at the table of public school children.

The DepEd should create a board of experts for every course/subject which will determine the appropriate textbooks, their authors, workbooks and worksheets for each grade level. After selection and approval by the Secretary, the purchase of the materials should not pass public bidding.

DepEd’s prior practice was to commission their own officials to author books for the Department, no matter how incompetent these people are in the field they are writing. The strategy (or corruption) was to contain the funding and appropriate the revenue among themselves at the expense of the children’s education.

I think it’s high time for the DepEd to re-think and re-evaluate the books they are providing the children. Likewise, the Department should also prevent politics to interfere with the hiring of teachers.

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On the IOS 7/iPhone vs Android/Samsung phones

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IOS is already behind Android just as the iPhones are behind the Samsung, HTC and Nexus top of the line phones.

The problem with the iPhone as a whole is its hardware. It cannot widen its screen more than 4 inches across because the phone will require a lot of processing power to handle the added pixels. Its micro processing clip, the A7, is not that powerful compared to the Snapdragon 800 of the S4 and the Galaxy Note 3. What it lacks hardware-wise iPhone compensates with its software.

IOS software and apps are not bloated. This is because unlike Android, Apple filters the apps that go into their store. It should be lean so that it could be seamlessly run by its processor. Android on the other hand is an open-source system. There is not much restrictions on how the developer will build an application. This is because Android or Google does not build its own hardware, it leaves it to the hardware giants like Samsung, Sony, LG and HTC.

One would think why there are no widgets or live wallpapers in an IOS. It is because these software eat up a lot of processing power. If there will be, iPhone performance will not be smooth.

But I don’t still discourage anybody to buy an iPhone. It’s how one uses his phone. If you are using your phone simply as an everyday talk and text, Facebook and internet browser, camera and video cam, or just to show friends that you can afford an expensive gadget, buy an iPhone. But if you are a techy geek, fond of multi-tasking, and you do other more than ordinary tasks in your phone, then get a top of the line Android phone.

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On Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan

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The guest speaker for the West View Primary School regular academic activity is Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan. Dr. Balakrishnan (a medical doctor) is the MP (Congressman) of the district where the school is located. He is also the incumbent Minister of the Environment and Water Resources of Singapore.

He arrived with no entourage. There were even no school banners welcoming his arrival and presence. He talked to the kids and waited until the activity ended. He was seen roaming around checking the booths, and talking to the teachers, pupils, and parents. I never saw the teachers, the parents or the pupils took pictures with him. He left alone quietly without anyone announcing his departure.

The doctor was also the guest speaker of the 2011 Philippine Embassy Independence Day Reception at the Mandarin Hotel. He is quite popular here in Singapore and is favored to be the next prime minister.

This is how our politicians should behave.

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On Singapore being a safer place

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We happened to cruise the roads of our neighborhood (Singapore) at midnight around 1 AM. I saw in a dimly lit bus stop, a teenage girl around 16 to 18 years old. She was wearing shorts and a shirt and was somewhat tinkering with her phone. She was maybe waiting for the next bus to arrive.

No other commuter is with her, yet she was relaxed and was not mindful of her surroundings. I told myself, in the Philippines, a girl of this age wearing daring outfits, in the wee hours of the night, alone, is inviting danger.

But here, it is actually a common sight. No one is scared to walk alone in the dead of the night. It is because no one will hurt you.

How safe it is to raise your children in a place like this.

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On Dealing with Arrogant People

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I love to attend reunions with people who had for sometime been my good friends. I want to know how they faired in life. I will be very happy to know that they have succeeded. Otherwise, I am very willing to help them in whatever way I can.

But I hate to attend reunions with people who had only been ‘passers-by’ in my life, and who joined the get-together for purpose of bragging their money, their things and the people who they know.

These people are either desperate attention-seekers or social climbers. I don’t need them. It is a waste of time.

I would rather be with friends who are underachievers but who speak truthfully about themselves. I would rather be with people who are achievers but who are humble enough not to brag their accomplishments.

Because I am not easily awed and amused by story-telling. I have many friends who have great stories to tell but opt not to tell them. And they remain great in my eyes as I have been to them.

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On the Filipinos’ Short-Term Memory

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Last night, since it was raining hard and we did not bring umbrellas with us, we were forced to ride a taxi from the neighboring mall (around 300 meters away from our house) to our unit. The uncle or taxi driver (that’s what they call older men here, just like mama in Manila) was very jolly and even praised our children for being so cute. He knew then that we are Filipinos although he mistaken us first for Singaporeans. He told us that he is always following Philippine News and is quite updated with it.

Now came the laughing yet quite embarrassing topic. He told us that he could not understand Filipinos. He laughed hard but not really in an insulting manner. He said that it is only in the Philippines that he sees people voting for politicians who robbed them. He was really stupefied that Erap won the mayoralty seat in Manila, the capital of the country. He also pointed out that Bongbong Marcos is now senator, Imelda, a congresswoman, and Imee, a governor. “Erap, he said, was convicted for doing bad in the government. Why vote for him again?”

It was the first time I was not able to defend us. I just laughed and said I didn’t really know. He told us laughing that Marcos made us poor and yet we reward his family by putting all of them to government seats. “In Singapore, he said, once you are convicted, you will never regain yourself. And isn’t it you are already around 95 million, are there no other man or woman more competent than these persons?”

Well, after all the conversation, and a bit embarrassed, we just invited him to visit the Philippines. His parting words were, “Well, the Philippines is doing great now, Benigno Aquino is doing a good job for your country. I hope the progress will continue.”

I even did not get his name. But I got a lesson or two of who we really are from an ordinary Singaporean like him.

Overseas Absentee Voting: Voter Turnout Apprehensions

oavOn April 13, 2013, national elections will start early for all overseas Filipinos around the globe. The choosing will only be limited to  party-list representatives and the 12 seats vacated by senators whose terms expire on June 30 noon. Votes for local candidates from governors down to the sangguniang bayan members, and local congressmen will not be included in the electronic ballot. COMELEC find it difficult to print ballots of different LGUs and to electronically configure the voting program to suit every Filipino living abroad who came from different local government units at home.

However, the biggest problem that besets the coming elections for OAV (overseas absentee voting) is to reach the target set by the COMELEC of a 50%-voter turnout.

Overseas Absentee Voting was first conducted in the presidential elections of 2004. The law was passed in 2003, after which only two months were allocated for registration. Of the 359,297 registered voters, it was said that 233,092 or 65% had voted. It was considered a success by the election body then considering the several problems it encountered prior, during and after the elections. In 2007, the mid-term elections resulted in a low voter turnout. From the 503,896 registrants, only 81,732 or 16% voted. This was a very sudden dropped (even in actual numbers) from the 2004 elections. COMELEC was quite optimistic with the voter turnout in the 2010 presidential elections. But after the exercise, of the 589,830 registrants, only 141,846 or 24% voted. There was only a 6% increase.

The sharp decline in 2007 was attributed by COMELEC to the fact that it was a mid-term election and voters were not so much keen in casting votes to fill up the senate seats, compared to electing a new president. They predicted a rebound in 2010. They were dismayed. The low turnout of 24% in 2010 further gave doubts to their alibi that mid-term elections do not encourage many voters.

I however have some reservations to the statistics presented by COMELEC in 2004 with respect to the OAV turnout. There might have been some inaccuracies. The 233,092 figure may not be totally true? We can recall that the national elections at that time was purely manual and the whole practice was rigged. If Arroyo could have pulled 1 million ghost votes in Mindanao, was it not possible for her to control the overseas absentee votes? It was likewise very doubtful to rush the passing of the OAV bill into law in 2003, and set up registration for two months to catch up with the 2004 voting? The whole OAV system may have been built to buffer any deficiency Arroyo might incur in the mainland elections. Maybe the Mindanao scheme was not yet in place then or maybe it was set up to augment it. The 65% turnout is quite shady for a new system.

To draw a clearer picture, the graph would depict a zig-zag line with highs during presidential elections and lows during mid-term elections. I may peg the 2004 elections at 20% turnout and not 65%.

The 2013 mid-term elections may not be any different from the 2007. Sad as it may, but it might not surpass the 2010 voter turnout. Most Filipinos do not see any impact in filling up the vacant seats left by the 12 senators. Unlike voting for the president, who wields all the major powers in the government, voting for the senators will not translate into any major changes in the government.

The other factor that does not give OAVs the fun and thrill to vote abroad is the absence of local elections in their ballots. Most Filipinos, accept it or not, are compelled to vote not because they care about electing national officials. They vote because they support local candidates who may be either their relatives, friends or allies. Others vote because of some considerations, in cash or in kind. During the OAV registration, most Filipinos would inquire whether local elections are part of the ballot. Some would not even register because they prefer to vote at home.

Filipinos who are permanent residents (green card holders, pink card holders, etc.) of other countries fear that they might lose their chance of gaining the host country’s citizenship if they vote in the Philippine elections.  The dilemma whether to register or not, vote or not, always comes at the choice between two citizenships. In this issue, the permanent residents take more into consideration the host country’s laws.

What is crucial in generating higher voter turnout is the information campaign that must be undertaken by the Philippine embassies (DFA) and the COMELEC. Every Filipino should be made aware of the election period so that he may prepare himself and marks his calendar for the activity. Filipino community associations must also be given the lead to spearhead and encourage Filipinos to vote. The band-wagon mentality still works with exercises like these. Social networking sites such as facebook and twitter must be used to disseminate information on the elections. The embassies should convey as much information they have on the event.

One way of ‘forcing’ a higher voter turnout is to give Filipinos a ‘no choice situation’ during the elections. It is undeniable that the right to vote also carries with it the duty to vote. Every Filipino has the civic duty to participate in the exercise. I believe it is not a violation of one’s right to ‘compel’ someone to vote during these times. Filipinos line up every day at embassies to process their official documents, passports and other papers. Why not put conditions on the facilitation or accommodation of these processes? For example, why not require first the individual to vote before continuing with facilitation of his papers? What violation could the embassy make? In the first place, it is the duty under the law of the individual to vote.

With around two weeks before the actual elections start, let us cross our fingers that the turnout will be better this time around.