By Rio N. Araja | Manila Standard
Filipinos in Hong Kong came out in droves as overseas absentee voting started for Pinoys abroad on Sunday, prompting authorities to ask them to consider casting their votes for the May 9 general elections on weekdays or other days.
The huge turnout of absentee voters on the first day yesterday alarmed authorities in the Chinese special administrative region, which isbattling a deadly COVID-19 surge.
Meanwhile, presidential frontrunner Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.’s Partido Federal ng Pilipinas on Sunday called on all registered overseas Filipino workers to vote at their respective embassies and designated polling areas in countries where they are based.
According to PFP secretary general Thomson Lantion, it is important for OFWs to vote because the future of Filipinos depends on it, not only those based in the Philippines, but also those living and working abroad.
Lantion also thanked all PFP members around the world for supporting “BBM’s” candidacy.
“You will take the lead and give not only direction, but you will take the lead that will bring success for BBM Sara UniTeam in your voting (on Sunday) around the world,” Lantion said.
Hong Kong police patrolled and flagged the deluge of Filipino voters in Kennedy Town as the Philippine Consul General in the island state asked them to observe health protocols to avoid the possible spread of the coronavirus disease.
This also prompted a Filipino labor group in Hong Kong to call for more polling precincts and a lawmaker to call for an immediate investigation into the “chaotic and disorganized” election system there that will last for a month.
“The turn out today is overwhelming – a good sign that our democracy is alive and burning. But it seems that everybody wants to vote on the first day,” Philippine Consul General Raly Tejada said in a statement posted on his Facebook page.
“The police are asking voters to cast their ballots on another day due to safety concerns and anti-pandemic measures in place,” he added.
Tejada noted that the polling place for registered overseas Filipino voters would be open for 30 days, giving Filipinos ample time to cast their ballots for the 2022 national elections.
“Please consider the request of the Hong Kong Police,” he said.
“Before giving its consent, one of the conditions set forth by the Hong Kong Government is strict compliance with anti-pandemic measures given that Hong Kong is in the midst of the Fifth Wave of the pandemic,” the consulate said in an advisory.
“Thus, to ensure effective crowd control and compliance with anti-pandemic measures, the Consulate General upon the recommendation of the Hong Kong Police wishes to announce that today’s capacity to accept voters has reached its limit,” it added.
Bayan Hong Kong and Macau Chairperson Eman Villanueva said the line of Filipino voters at Kennedy Town stretched up to two kilometers.
Hong Kong police asked those in charge of the precinct to discourage Filipinos from coming to the site to stop the queue from getting longer, Villanueva said.
There are only five polling precincts in the Chinese region, each with only one vote counting machine (VCM), said Villanueva, adding that each site would have to accommodate up to 20,000 voters.
“We think there should be more precincts now compared to the previous election because in the previous election, we had 10 precincts,” Villanueva told ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo.
“If we can’t bring back the previous 10 precincts that operate at any given time, hopefully they’ll add more… because it’s the presidential elections, the voters’ enthusiasm is different,” he said.
Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez, in a separate TeleRadyo interview, echoed Tejada’s appeal, noting that voting for overseas Filipinos “is actually until May 9.”
“So there’s still a lot of time for our compatriots,” Jimenez said, as he also clarified that voting at Kennedy Town did not stop.
Jimenez added the Comelec has requested for additional VCMs in Hong Kong.
In a statement, Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite said he would ask the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms to summon the Comelec, Department of Foreign Affairs, and Hong Kong consular office to look into the matter.
“We cannot allow the potential massive disenfranchisement of our overseas voters due to the ineptitude and lack of proper organizing by these officials,” Gaite said.
Absentee voters in Dubai also began casting their ballots on Sunday at the Philippine Consulate General in Dubai.
According to the Philippine Consul General the United Arab Emirates has the largest number of registered voters with about 200,000.
Voting hours are from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, and 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. from April 11 to May 8.
Meanwhile, voting on May 9 will be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Earlier, the Comelec postponed the start of overseas voting in Shanghai, China due to the COVID-19 surge.
Comelec Commissioner Marlon Casquejo said there were around 1,600 Filipino voters in the city.
He added the commission is studying the possibility of suspending polls in seven other countries and cities including Baghdad; Iraq; Algeria; Chad; Tunisia; Libya; in Islamabad, Afghanistan; and Ukraine.
There are a total of 127 registered voters in these countries.
Gaite reacted to a Facebook broadcast by Dolores Balladares Pelaez of UNIFIL- Migrante Hong Kong about the failure of the Philippine consular office to accommodate thousands of Filipino overseas in Hong Kong who came in droves to the Bayanihan Center at Victoria Road, Kennedy Town.
Pelaez cited many failures in the first day of election exercise, saying there were only five vote counting machines, instead of 10 VCMs.
Despite the voters’ early arrival in the venue, the voting precinct was unable to accommodate them last Sunday, the only free time to vote for the OFWs, he said.
Nearly 1.7 million Filipinos based abroad are expected to cast their votes ahead of the elections, Commission on Elections Commissioner George Garcia earlier told ABS-CBN Teleradyo.
Overseas voters may vote either through mail or by personally casting their ballot at the assigned Philippine diplomatic post in their area.
The OAV was first implemented in the 2004 elections by virtue of the Overseas Absentee Voting Act or Republic Act 9189. It was meant to provide equal opportunity for all eligible citizens of the Philippineswho are living or staying abroad to exercise their right to suffrage.
The law was later amended by RA 10590, which granted Filipinos with dual citizenship the right to vote.
As of January 2022, Hong Kong has around 93,600 registered overseas absentee voters, according to Comelec data.
Hong Kong boasted of having the second highest voter turnout in the 2016 presidential elections with 52,449 votes cast from the Chinese region, Comelec data showed. The United Arab Emirates was first with
62,103 ballots lodged.