POSTSCRIPT / June 21, 2001 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Let's adopt absentee voting for 2004 polls

DON’T spend time worrying about the fate of the peace talks in Oslo between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front. The talks will resume soon.

Siyempre, the government has to officially show displeasure over the NDF’s gloating over the recent execution by its armed partisans of Cagayan Gov. Rodolfo Aguinaldo for alleged blood debts to the people.

The circumstances of Aguinaldo’s death are clear both to Malacañang and the NDF. Both sides realize that national interest overshadows the controversial death of one man. The unfortunate incident will not stand in the way of peace talks resuming shortly.

* * *

ABU SAYYAF PROBLEM: There is only one way out for the Arroyo administration groping in the Basilan maze: Get the top Abu Sayyaf commanders, dead or alive.

Even if government forces recover all the hostages, as long as the terrorist chieftains are free to lead their pack in kidnapping innocent civilians, decapitating hostages at will and sowing terror, the problem festers.

While recovering the hostages is important, as a detached observer, we think the joint military-police-civilian forces should give priority to capturing the Abu Sayyaf leaders dead or alive.

* * *

IN the case of Ghalib Andang, alias Commander Robot, it would be difficult for the government to embrace him as a returnee after his high-profile leadership in the Sipadan kidnapping last year where the Abu Sayyaf bagged a covey of international tourists, killed some of them, and collected huge dollar ransoms.

Even if Robot now offers to share his loot with the government, squeals on former President Erap Estrada on his alleged sharing of the ransom, beats his guns and satellite phone into plowshares and shifts to farming… that will not erase the fact that he is a dangerous criminal with whom a compromise is risky.

This is one deal the government will have to examine thoroughly, including its implications.

* * *

ROBOT should be warmed against making demands or imposing conditions for his returning to the fold of the law. He is not in a position to make demands.

From where we sit, it looks to us that Sulu-based Robot has had a falling out with his partners in crime in Basilan over the millions that the group has amassed from kidnapping. Their quarreling over dirty money is not exactly the best reason for his supposed change of heart.

If Robot wants to prove his sincerity, maybe he should gather his men, sail to Basilan and, on their own, confront the Abu Sayyaf faction that is holding more than two dozen hostages and battling government forces.

* * *

LET Robot deliver the heads of the Basilan commanders, and his friend Ilocos Sur Gov. Chavit Singson will have an easier time convincing Malacañang and the military to give Robot some fresh batteries and a chance to lead a more peaceful life.

If Robot cannot deliver, the next best thing for him to do is surrender and face the consequences like a man. If he cooperates, he might just be able to bargain some leniency from the courts.

As for Singson, while his trying to work out a surrender is appreciated, the mention of Erap’s alleged commissions in the ransom leaves a bad taste in the mouth. If Chavit could take PR advice, he and Robot should keep quiet about Erap in the meantime.

* * *

THE main story in the Business section of a major daily headlined “Crush Sayyaf and save the peso – GMA” is another reminder to us journalists to be careful when straying beyond our beats.

The writer of the business story described the Abu Sayyaf terrorists as “self-proclaimed Islamic independence fighters.” The fact is that these kidnappers are plain bandits. They are terrorists.

They are not “independence fighters” as the Moro National Liberation Front of Nur Misuari was a secessionist group seeking a separate Bangsamoro.

We in media should cooperate in seeing to it that the Abu Sayyaf is not given a romantic aura and its depredations misrepresented as part of a war of liberation.

* * *

ABSENTEE VOTING: Filipinos abroad, meanwhile, are preparing to campaign for the passage of a law to carry out the constitutional mandate for Congress to “provide a system…for absentee voting by qualified Filipinos abroad.” (Section 2, Article V)

Fourteen years after the ratification of the Constitution, overseas Filipino workers dutifully sending money running into billions to their families in the Philippines are still deprived of their right to participate in elections.

There are at least three million Filipinos abroad of voting age, comprising a potent swing vote in a close electoral fight.

* * *

SOME lawmakers have told us that their failure to pass an enabling law does not spring from a lack of willingness to recognize the rights and the contributions to the economy of our compatriots abroad.

They blame instead the widespread fear that absentee voting might become a tool of whoever is in power. We think fear is not a valid reason for denying Filipinos abroad their right to vote as recognized by the Constitution no less.

Familiar with all the tricks of poll cheaters, our grizzled lawmakers are competent enough to craft legislation that could thwart whoever wants to manipulate absentee voters or rig the results.

* * *

WE may sound a bit naïve when we say this, but we think absentee voting is not that complicated and that cheating can be prevented.

We begin with the premise that Filipinos abroad are a responsible lot. In fact, we dare say that considering their demographics and high level of political awareness they could be more responsible than the average voter in the home country.

To guard against cheating and abuses, we assume that Filipinos abroad are ready and willing to help police the polls in their respective areas. The process should be so thoroughly transparent that any irregularity would be immediately detected and corrected.

* * *

AS in the case of other countries that allow absentee voting, we can use our diplomatic and consular missions for the purpose. The most ranking career officer can be deputized by the Commission on Elections to manage the electoral process in his area.

(Note our choice of a “career” officer, as political appointees who may be inclined to side with their benefactor in Malacañang head some missions.)

The local Filipino community can guard the voting, counting and canvassing — which should be conducted non-stop. It would be easy to spot any discrepancy between the actual results and the figures reported to Manila.

* * *

THE inclusion in our registry of voters of Filipinos working abroad would raise the quality of our voting population.

By and large, overseas Filipinos are better educated and better informed. With high-tech means of communication, they are fully aware of what is going on in the home country.

Overseas workers are more economically stable. This plus their being relatively remote makes them less susceptible to pressure and blandishments. They are also in a position to give objective advice to their relatives back home.

* * *

AS suffrage springs from citizenship, absentee voting is expected to get enmeshed in a debate over dual citizenship — which, unknown to most Filipinos, is actually allowed under the Constitution.

Many Filipinos who have had brushes with citizenship laws of other countries are not aware that they may qualify for dual citizenship under Section 1 of Article IV that says: “The following are citizens of the Philippines: xxx (2) Those whose fathers or mothers are citizens of the Philippines.”

A good example of Filipinos who can claim dual citizenship under this section are those born abroad and one of whose parents is a Filipino at the time.

Although they may have assumed the citizenship of the country of their birth under the principle of jus soli and had been issued passports by the host country in their infancy or childhood, they may still qualify for dual Filipino citizenship under certain conditions.

Filipinos who had resided abroad long enough to acquire foreign citizenship and who in the process of naturalization had renounced their Filipino citizenship are a different matter.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 21, 2001)

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