Monday, March 10, 2003

Philippine law
allows overseas
Filipinos to vote

As many as 50,000 Filipino
immigrants here may be eligible

By Craig Gima

As many as 50,000 Filipinos living in Hawaii may be able to register and vote in national elections in the Philippines next year, says Philippine Consul General Rolando Gregorio.

The Overseas Voting Act, signed into law by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Feb. 13, allows Filipino immigrants and permanent residents living in other countries to vote for president, vice president, Senate and some House seats.

"It means substantial numbers of Filipino politicians are going to be coming to Hawaii and organizing rallies," said Gerry Finin, a Philippines expert and senior fellow at the East-West Center. Finin believes candidates will travel to Hawaii and the U.S. West Coast in search of votes before the elections in May 2004.

"If we can vote, that will really help the candidates in the Philippines," said Joe Lazo, a community leader and supporter of the late, deposed Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Ferdinand "Bong Bong" Marcos Jr., the governor of Ilocos Norte, and his sister Imee, a member of the Philippine House of Representatives, are considering running for the Senate and would find support here, Lazo said.

Marcos and his family are from Ilocos Norte, the home province of most of Hawaii's Filipino immigrants.

Hawaii has the largest concentration of immigrants from Ilocos Norte in the nation, Finin said, and any politician from that region would need to campaign in Hawaii. "There is a base of support here they can draw on."

But the Marcos children may decide not to travel to Hawaii or anywhere else in the United States to campaign because of a U.S. court judgment against the estate of Ferdinand Marcos in a lawsuit brought by victims of torture and repression during his regime.

Sherry Broder, one of the attorneys who sued Marcos, is still trying to collect a multibillion-dollar judgment. Broder said if Bong Bong or Imee come to the United States, she will go to court to seek to seize whatever assets they bring with them and compel them to reveal where Marcos' money is hidden.

The overseas-voting law must still survive a Philippine Supreme Court challenge on whether it is constitutional to allow permanent residents living in another country to vote, and the logistical difficulties of mounting Philippine elections in several different countries.

Gregorio said logistics will be especially tough in Hawaii, where the consulate may have to set up polling places on each island. The consulate in Hawaii is also responsible for Filipinos in French Polynesia, American Samoa, Kiribati and Tonga.

"It's really an enormous job," Gregorio said.

He is working with local Filipino community groups to get the word out about the new law and to seek nonpartisan volunteers who can help the consulate staff the polls on election day.

Those eligible to vote in Philippine elections must have a valid Philippine passport or certification that they can be issued a passport, and sign an affidavit that he or she will assume actual permanent residence in the Philippines within three years.

Those who have applied for foreign citizenship are not eligible.

According to 2000 U.S. census figures, there are 1.4 million people born in the Philippines who live in the United States and 102,000 Philippine-born residents in Hawaii. The census does not have figures on how many of those residents would not be able to vote in the Philippine elections because they have become naturalized U.S. citizens or are under the age of 18.

About 3,000 new immigrants come to Hawaii every year from the Philippines, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in Honolulu.

The overseas vote "can mean a lot, especially in terms of close elections," said Belinda Aquino, director of the University of Hawaii's Center for Philippine Studies. Half of the Philippines' 24-member Senate is elected every three years, and -- unlike the United States, where senators are elected by district -- the top 12 vote-getters nationwide take office.

Because of the Filipino Channel on cable and satellite television and other news sources, Aquino said Filipinos here keep up to date with what is happening back home and would be able to make informed choices in an election.

Finin said he thinks some Philippine politicians may try to seek endorsements from local Filipino-American elected officials, who already have a base of support in the immigrant community.

"It will add an interesting dimension to the political scene in Hawaii," he said.

Finin expressed concerns over whether practices such as vote-buying and stuffing ballot boxes, which happen in some areas of the Philippines, may cross over to the United States.

But Gregorio said he is "heartened by the fact that Filipinos here have a high regard for the integrity of the ballot."

"I would encourage everyone who is eligible to vote to exercise this right," he said. "It will be good for the country."

Government of the Philippines

E-mail to City Desk


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