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Police break up crowd of thousands on last day of OVR

15 October 2021

By Daisy CL Mandap


People on the bridge and on the ground listen as they are asked to disperse 

Thousands of Filipinos won’t be able to cast their ballots in next year’s presidential election after Hong Kong police broke up the long queue that formed outside the Consulate building on Thursday, the last day of the overseas voter registration.

Those who were in the queue said the police started telling people to disperse at about noon after noticing the large crowd that gathered on the bridge linking Tamar and United Centre where the Consulate is located.

As a result, Consulate officers and staff were forced to issue only 500 numbered tickets to those at the start of the queue, leaving many more people with no choice but to leave.

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Consul Bob Quintin, who heads the OVR team at the Consulate, said, “Sobrang dami ng tao (there were just too many people). The police came and dispersed the crowd.”

He added, “We had to follow police orders. In the end, they helped us deal with the crowd.”

Unfortunately for the would-be applicants in Hong Kong, Storm Signal No 8 was hoisted the day before the deadline so those who had planned to register on that day spilled over on to the last day of the OVR.


Then, since Thursday was a statutory holiday, there were not a lot of people out on the streets, so the thick gathering outside the Consulate was easily noticed by the police out to enforce anti-Covid restrictions that limit public gatherings to only four people to a group.

May mga pumila ng 10pm kagabi, so definitely…kinaumagahan, mahaba na rin ang pila,” said Quintin. (Some queued up starting at 10pm the previous night, so definitely, the line was already long early the next day).

“There was just no way we could absorb that volume so we had to cut it at some point. (It) just happened earlier than we would have wanted.”

The Consulate's public hall was jampacked, too  (Facebook photo)

The Consulate had earlier announced that it would open for OVR only on Thursday, from 9am to 3pm. In the past few Sundays of the registration, the cut-off was set at 4pm, but Consulate staff were able to finish processing all applications only at around 1am the next day.

With the police imposing crowd control measures Thursday, the last of the OVR applicant was able to leave the Consulate offices on the 14th floor of United Centre at around 5:30pm.

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Consul Bob said that apart from the lucky 500 people who got tickets to go up to the Consulate, there was another group that was already inside before the police took action.

“Maraming transfer so they don’t add to the registration count, but we had around that number, 500-600, but the total transactions are beyond that. Meron pang mga active ang registration upon verification.”

One of those who failed to beat the deadline was Christina Medes Garma, who said she had gone to the Consulate at 8am.

Yun ngang 3am dumating, hindi nakaabot e ako pa kayang 8am nang nandun?,” she said, obviously miffed. (Those who came at 3am weren’t able to make the cut, so how much chance did I have when I arrived at 8am?)

According to some of those who managed to get in despite coming a bit later in the morning, people had to know where to position themselves so they stood a better chance of getting to the front of the queue.

Some spent the night at the Consulate to be first in line (Facebook)

Garma said she was already in the queue when the police came.

Bumaba na yung pinaka-head ng Consulate, nag megaphone na, kasama ang mga pulis. Hindi na daw ma-accommodate lahat kaya dapat mag disperse na kasi hindi na ma control ang crowd,” she said.

(The head of the Consulate came down and used a megaphone, accompanied by the police. He said not everyone could be accommodated so we should start dispersing because the crowd could not be controlled anymore).

After the police repeated the warning, she said the people who were lined up had no choice but to disperse.

Others on the same boat asked through social media posts why the Consulate capped the number of people they allowed inside at only 500, when thousands more were already camped outside. Others simply begged for another extension so they could still get the chance to vote next year.

The OVR was originally scheduled to end on Sept. 30, but was extended for a further two weeks in the wake of clamor from Filipinos abroad. Those in the Philippines have until Oct 30 to register.

After months of delays caused by raucous anti-government protests in Hong Kong, the Consulate resumed the OVR in December 2019, but only a few people availed of the service then despite the registration desk being positioned right in front of the office lifts.

The registration slowed down after the pandemic hit two months later, with the Consulate being forced to operate at reduced work hours, and people being advised to stay indoors to stop the spread of the virus.

The registration picked up about two months before the deadline, but the queuing at the start happened only on Sundays, and later, on Saturdays as well, after Consul General Raly Tejada acceded to requests from some migrant workers.

In the last month of the registration, people started lining up even on weekdays. One recently arrived Filipina resident said she had to take a day-off to register, but still spent three hours going through the process.

The final step in the long road to OVR (Facebook)

But the last-minute rush especially among the migrant workers was just one of the things that hampered the work of the OVR team. Equally challenging was the inadequate logistical support extended them by the Commission on Elections.

With tens of thousands of Filipinos anxious to make their vote count in a highly politicized place like Hong Kong the Consulate’s OVR team had to make do with only two computers to capture biometrics and ensure they’re stored in the Comelec data base.

This is a far cry from when the Consulate had enough computers to regularly conduct mobile or outreach registration, and list up the first 87,000 Filipinos in Hong Kong who eagerly signed up for the chance to directly elect their national leaders.

More ominously now, no budget appears to have been set aside for doing preparatory work to ensure the ageing Bayanihan Centre where the overseas voting has been held since 2004 is still able to withstand the rigors of yet another presidential election.

With just six months to go before the month-long voting starts, this may yet pose an even bigger challenge to the Consulate than the OVR crunch.
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