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All set for overseas voting

31 March 2016

Everything is ready for the month-long overseas absentee voting beginning April 9, with the Commission on Elections vowing to make the polls the cleanest in history.
In Hong Kong, Comelec’s Office of Overseas Voting has scheduled the Final Testing and Sealing (FTS) of the vote-counting machines (VCMs) on April 8 at the Bayanihan Center, where the voting will begin the next day. The Consulate General in Hong Kong received 10 vote counting machines and ballot boxes on March 1; the official ballots have yet to be delivered.
OOV figures showed that Hong Kong  has 93,049 registered voters.  The Comelec is targeting an 80-percent OAV turnout.
Testing of the machines started on March 13 at the Philippine consulates in San Francisco, California and in Madrid, Spain and in New York and Italy on March 18.
Worldwide, the Department of Foreign Affairs-Overseas Voting Secretariat recorded a total of 1,301,598 active registered overseas voters as of October 2015.
Bulk of the overseas voters is in the Middle East and Africa, with 550,000; followed by Asia and the Pacific with 350,000; then the Americas with 250,000; and Europe, 150,000. Around 30,000 seafarers have also registered for absentee voting.
As this developed, Comelec has vowed to make this year’s elections “the most transparent” in history, despite challenges brought about by the Supreme Court (SC) decision requiring the printing of voter receipts right after a voter casts his/her vote.
Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista, speaking at a hearing by the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System (JCOCAES), assured that the poll body has set in place safeguards as required by law to ensure transparency in the conduct of the balloting even if the SC ruling has “dealt a curve ball in our preparations for the upcoming elections.”
“But that is the past and we’re here to move on. We are looking to catch up,” he said, referring to the initial shock felt by poll officials after the SC issued the ruling requiring the printing of vote receipts.
“However, we would like to categorically announce to the committee and to the public that all the safeguards provided in Republic Act 8436 as amended by Republic Act 9369 or the Automated Election Laws, all the safeguards will be in place for the 2016 elections and in fact even more,” Bautista said.
Comelec has been mulling the idea of moving the election date in the Philippines two weeks later, or on May 23, to enable adjustments in the voting process, including the printing of voter receipts. It also raised the possibility of starting the balloting earlier at 6 a.m. and extending it until 5 p.m., instead of the usual 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. voting period.
This came after SC ordered the Comelec to activate the voter verified paper audit trail feature of its vote counting machines in compliance with the Automated Election System Law. The Comelec is now procuring thermal paper, scissors and boxes for the printing and storage of the voter receipts.
SC ruling on Poe spawns suit
The Supreme Court ruling which allowed Grace Poe-Llamanzares to run for president has spurred new cases questioning previous SC decisions.
In one of the them, Regina Ongsiako-Reyes, unseated as Marinduque congresswoman for being a naturalized Filipino, questioned the SC’s Poe ruling despite questions in her citizenship and residency.
Reyes left her post after the Supreme Court affirmed last January the decision of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) disqualifying her in the 2013 congressional election on the grounds that she was a naturalized American citizen.
Lord Allan Velasco, son of Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbiterio Velasco, had replaced Reyes at the House of Representatives.
In her petition to the SC, Reyes compared the high court’s ruling on Poe’s case and that of the disqualification case against her, noting that the high court allowed Poe to run for president even if her parents are unknown but declaring her (Reyes) as ineligible for a congressional seat when she is “a natural-born citizen, with a birth certificate, whose parents are Filipino citizens and are known public servants.”
Reyes is a daughter of former congresswoman Carmencita Reyes and a sister of Edmund. Her father was a commissioner of the Bureau of Immigration during the Marcos administration.
Reyes asked why the high court allowed a foundling who reacquired Philippine citizenship, like Poe did, to seek the presidency after earlier disqualifying a natural-born candidate in lower elective posts with previous dual citizenship and known parents, like Reyes does.
“If Poe-Llamanzares is allowed to run, should not, with more reason that Gina O. Reyes be allowed to run?” Reyes said in a statement.
Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo has earlier warned in his dissenting opinion that the controversial SC ruling on Poe’s case would open the floodgates of election protests as it reversed the jurisprudence set in earlier poll cases.
The Comelec has also appealed the SC ruling, noting that only seven of the 15 justices voted that Poe is a natural-born Filipino citizen, which is not a majority vote.

Catholic church won’t endorse bets
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said it is not endorsing any candidate for any position in the May 9 elections as it denied posts that have become viral on social media claiming support for at least two presidential candidates.
In a post on the Papal Visit - Philippines 2015 Facebook page, which it manages, the CBCP Media Office belied a post claiming that Pope Francis issued a statement "admiring" Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
"May we inform the public that the statement from the Pope is not true," the clarification read. "It came from a satire piece and is fake."
It added: "We beg everyone to please stop spreading this and to please cease from maliciously using the Pope for political gains."
Another post called for "block voting" of Catholics for administration standard bearer Mar Roxas and his running-mate, Camarines Sur Rep. Leni Robredo.
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