Ask OFWs directly about absentee voting
HOT TOPICS: Two items have become regular stuff in our mailbox: (1) Incoming email loaded with a virus, and (2) letters from overseas Filipinos sounding off on dual citizenship and absentee voting.
Hot topics these days, at least in our Net neighborhood, are the moves to ease the rules on dual citizenship for Filipinos who had been naturalized in the country where they now reside and to grant voting rights to Filipinos and dual citizens abroad.
Measures are now being debated in Congress on dual citizenship and absentee voting. The two subjects are separate, but related. While a bill must cover only one subject, dual citizenship and absentee voting cannot be discussed independently of each other.
But how do we know if the position put forward by lobby groups claiming to represent overseas Filipinos reflect the true sentiment of majority of our compatriots abroad?
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WHY ABSENTEE VOTING?: Here is a sampling of mail we’ve been getting on the subject. From reader Francis P. Carlos of Valenzuela City (@edsamail.com.ph):
“Perhaps the best argument in favor of a move to allow citizens abroad to vote is the fact that they number in millions and represent the educated, responsible and economically contributive sectors of our society. No one can argue against this fact.
“A second factor is the fact that they will act as a leverage against the irresponsible votes of the ‘uneducated’ sectors of our society or what we call the ‘great unwashed.’
“However, politics is dirty business in our country. Vote buying — with money from corruption, gambling, drugs and smuggling — is a fact of life and a regular occurrence come election day. Unwanted officials are elected this way.
“Filipinos are clannish. There are several Ilocano, Pampango, Cebuano, Waray, Ilonggo, Bicolano and other regional associations in America and other parts of the world. Are we ready to face the consequence of infiltration by political parties of these organizations? Are we also ready to face the dirty tricks of dagdag-bawas, vote-buying and mafia-type camaraderie abroad brought about by politics?
“For all we know Filipinos abroad are contented with enriching their lives, meeting friends, cultural parties and dances, civic actions and the like. But politics in their midst? In a way, Filipinos abroad would be muddled by this new dimension in their lives. For all we know they just want to be left alone, busy with their lives earning money abroad, and yes, please, less or no politics.
“Let us show that we are ready and sincere about them. Let us fix our own backyard first — allow computerized election here, have tamper-proof voter’s ID, and clean the Comelec. If finally our elections turn out good and clean, then we are ready to export this idea.”
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SOLID IGLESIA ABROAD: Mariano Yuzon using an AOL (America OnLine) address writes on absentee voting:
“Guess who and what group will emerge as the swing vote? Not the OFWs in the Middle East. Neither is any of the Filipino associations abroad. If there is one that will be most sought after by the candidates, it is no other than the very powerful and influential religious group Iglesia Ni Cristo.
“From its humble beginning somewhere in Sta. Ana, Manila, about more than 80 years ago, INC has now reached more than 70 countries. In the US alone, INC has congregations in every state. It has even reached Rome, Israel, South Africa and Latin America.
“INC’s disciplined and obedient members worldwide has made it one of the most recognized and even feared religious groups in modern history. Despite criticism, detractors and enemies in faith particularly the Roman Catholic Church now look at INC with envy and curiosity.
“Unfortunately, President Arroyo has a lot of homework to do to renew her once close ties with INC for breaking her promise during Edsa Tres. Yes, INC supported her when she was a senator and vice president. A compromise was made to withdraw INC members from the Edsa Tres rallies if Arroyo would see to it Erap was given house arrest.
“What about today? INC is not pleased with the present administration. If Arroyo does not make amends with INC leader Ka Erdie, she will certainly get a hard time running against any candidate from the opposition.
“Despite the controversies and alleged scandals surrounding her government, I believe President Arroyo is sincere and means well. The problem is she has spent most of her time paying political debts by pleasing all the Edsa Dos groups. Those who were disappointed and were not rewarded are now her enemies.
“One objection and concern of the people regarding absentee voting is the possibility of cheating. Our embassies and consulates abroad could be suspected of manipulating and tampering with the votes; which is not impossible.”
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DISCRIMINATION ASSAILED: Here’s a related situation told us in an email (slightly edited) from a Filipina who will be unnamed at the moment:
“I’m a Filipina married to a Swiss. I want to know if I could apply for a Swiss passport without losing my Philippine passport. Every time I travel I have to secure visas from different countries, which is a hassle partly to my husband, because every time I have to apply for a visa, he has to make a guarantee letter confirming he’s going to shoulder all expenses for my trip.
“Once my husband and I went to Saipan for vacation with a Swiss friend. The Saipan Authority asks about something like permission to board the plane, a kind of visa entry to Saipan. We had to apply in Saipan, so we had all necessary papers ready. When we arrived in Saipan, however, Immigration held my passport and my return ticket.
“That was an indescribable moment. The discrimination for my being Filipino, oh my God!, was unbelievable. I write to find out or clarify this matter and also about dual citizenship.”
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THINGS TO CHECK: Having written a lot on the subject, we’re often mistaken by some readers to be an authority on dual citizenship. We’re not. In the first place, we’re not a lawyer. But we do have certain considered opinion on the subject than many readers apparently appreciate — if we go by the feedback we’ve been getting.
But lawyer or not, we advised this distressed Filipina married to a Swiss gentleman:
- Check if you’re qualified for Swiss citizenship. If you are, then check if their naturalization process requires you to explicitly renounce your Philippine citizenship. Some countries (like the United States) do and some countries don’t. Filipinos who are naturalized in countries that do not require renunciation remain Filipinos, to my mind.
- If Switzerland does not require renunciation of your original citizenship upon your naturalization as Swiss, this may work in your favor. Since you have not renounced your Philippine citizenship, you remain a Filipino while being a Swiss at the same time. Upon your naturalization, you will then enjoy dual citizenship, which is allowed in certain cases by our Constitution.
- If you enjoy dual citizenship, you may be able to carry two passports, one Philippine and another Swiss. When you depart Manila, use your Philippine passport for convenience. When you enter another country, use your Swiss passport also for convenience.
- But if Switzerland requires renunciation, you have to think really hard about becoming a Swiss. Or sit it out and await the possible good news of our Congress passing a law that would consider Filipinos who had renounced their citizenship (upon their naturalization in another country) as still Filipinos despite the renunciation.
- Or you can take the big leap and become a Swiss, and say goodbye to discrimination. But, mind you, a foreign passport is no guarantee — as some of my women friends who had adopted the citizenship of their European husbands have discovered. Some nasty immigration officers abroad still ask too many questions despite these Filipinas’ carrying European passports.
We reprint our reply to her as it may apply to others similarly situated. But we repeat the caveat that we’re not a lawyer and we offer no guarantee that our opinion will not be challenged by a member of the bar.