Emmi de Jesus

Domestic helper, teacher cast first ballots in Hong Kong, Palau

Domestic helper, teacher cast first ballots in Hong Kong, Palau
By Pia Lee-Brago
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – A domestic helper and a high school teacher were the first to cast their votes in Hong Kong and Palau at the start of the overseas absentee voting (OAV) yesterday, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

Rowena de la Cruz, a domestic helper, had camped out in front of Hong Kong’s Bayanihan Kennedy town center on Friday afternoon and was the first to vote yesterday morning.

Noel Reyes, a 36-year-old teacher in Palau High School, was the first to vote in the

Philippine embassy in Kokor, Palau. Reyes wore a white t-shirt bearing the phrase “Ako ang Simula” when he voted.

Some 589,830 overseas Filipinos out of the estimated nine million Filipinos living abroad have registered for the OAV. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) is expecting a voter turnout of 60 to 70 percent.

Comelec records showed that Hong Kong has the largest number of Filipino absentee voters (95,355), followed by Saudi Arabia (90,022), United States (48,293), Singapore (31, 853), Kuwait (20, 256), Abu Dhabi (17,051), and Italy (13,313).

DFA spokesman Eduardo Malaya said voting “commenced smoothly” in the 93 embassies and consulates general worldwide.

The OAV started at 8 a.m. in individual countries yesterday and will end at 6 p.m. Philippine time on May 10.

Absentee voting is automated in Hong Kong and Singapore. Voters in other countries can mail or manually cast their votes at the nearest Philippine embassy or consulate.

Malaya said the embassies and consulates can receive votes eight hours a day, or may adopt a flexible schedule to accommodate more voters.

Abs-cbnnews.com reported yesterday that De la Cruz, a member of migrant workers’ group Migrante, voted for Nacionalista Party presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. and his running mate Sen. Loren Legarda.

She also voted for NP senatorial candidates Reps. Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza.

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said, however, this should not set a trend.

“On the surface of it, it’s newsworthy… (But) we want to assure the public that this does not mean there is trending and we’ll study the situation,” he said.

Jimenez said the Comelec does not want the OAV to set trends that would influence local voters during the nationwide synchronized elections on May 10.

“We’ll see what we can do over the next few days just to prevent the appearance of trending. It’s very important for us that the election here in the Philippines will not be perceived as having been influenced by any outside factor such as trending or a bandwagon that will be generated by the OAV,” Jimenez said.

Automation test

Absentee voting in Hong Kong and Singapore, which has a combined voter base of 128,000, will test the automated balloting system to be used in the Philippines for the first time.

Precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines will be used in the month-long OAV in the two countries, 20 of which will be used at the Bayanihan Center in Hong Kong.

“Through this (OAV), we will know whether or not this really works,” Comelec Commissioner Armando Velasco said. “We hope to learn a lot from the process.”

Jimenez said the first day of absentee voting in Hong Kong had been generally peaceful.

He said it took the voters a minute and a half to fill out the ballot, faster compared to five minutes recorded during initial field tests.

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) chairperson Henrietta de Villa said they were satisfied with the conduct of the first day of absentee voting in Hong Kong.

“They (Comelec) prepared well, there was no problem on the first day. They conducted an extensive voter’s education,” De Villa said.

PPCRV is a Comelec-accredited citizen’s arm.

Women’s party-list group Gabriela yesterday urged Filipinos overseas to participate in the OAV.

“The essence of OAV is to allow OFWs, majority of whom are women, to exercise their democratic right to choose their leaders, thus it is important to ensure that the genuine will of our compatriots be upheld,” said Gabriela vice chairperson and second nominee Emmi de Jesus. – With Sheila Crisostomo, Evelyn Macairan, Michael Punongbayan