This Sunday’ Column: Our OFWs and the Right to Vote

I distinctly remember several moving stories about overseas Filipino workers who stood in line so early in the morning, even before the Philippine Embassy could open its doors, in order to exercise their right to vote. This right was made possible by the passage of the Overseas Absentee Voting Law, an enabling act derived from the Constitution.
The first overseas Filipino who voted was a senior citizen in Papua New Guinea. I forgot his name now but I recall that he has spent more than ten years in PNG and that he woke up at dawn’s first light eager to exercise his right to choose our national leaders. In the United States, a grandmother went to the Philippine Consulate in a wheelchair to cast her ballot. In the Middle East, domestic helpers implored their employers for a few hours off just so they could go to the embassy to vote. In Singapore, an employer drove his Filipino domestic worker to the Embassy as a gesture of support for her newfound right.  More...
If you look at the figures of Filipinos who registered and those who actually voted, you may find cause to dismiss the first overseas absentee elections in 2004 as a dismal failure. After all, only 234,269 registered absentee voters actually voted from a total number of 364,187 registrants. This number represents a tiny minority from out of an estimated 8 million Filipinos living and working abroad. Yet, these figures do not describe how empowered our OFWs felt upon receiving and writing on the ballot for the first time after so many years of being away from their homeland. Considering the strong, consistent dollar inflows that come from the calloused hands and sweat of our workers overseas, ensuring that they can vote in any national political exercise is but a humble gesture of appreciation on the government’s part.
It is this right that will be jeopardized if and when the pro-Charter change signature drive achieves its objective of subverting the Constitution in order to change the structure of government. Atty. Reynaldo Robles, an old friend and legal counsel to my late father, said, in reply to my query, that the Overseas Absentee Voting Law limits the right of an OFW to vote only for nationally elected candidates, meaning the President, the Vice-President, Senators, and Party-List Groups. The law had failed to include voting in a national referendum or a plebiscite as cited in the constitutional provisions on amendments to or revisions of the Constitution.
Here is the opinion of my good friend, Atty. Robles:
“It appears that, under the OVERSEAS ABSENTEE VOTING ACT OF 2003 (REPUBLIC ACT NO. 9189), Filipinos overseas cannot vote to participate in the plebiscite or referendum on the controversial proposal for charter change (CHACHA) if and when the same is submitted to the people in a referendum or plebiscite.”
            “Section 4 of the Act, which defines the Coverage of the Law, does not include referendum or plebiscites as among those OFWs can vote on under the Act and limits the coverage of the Law to the election of the President, Vice-President, Senators and Party-List Representatives, thus:
“Sec. 4. Coverage. – All citizens of the Philippines abroad, who are not otherwise disqualified by law, at least eighteen (18) years of age on the day of elections, may vote for president, vice-president, senators and party-list representatives.”  
“It is a basic rule in statutory construction that: “when the law enumerates, what has not been included is deemed excluded”.  This is based on the Latin maxim “inclusion unius est exclusion alterius”. 
“From the foregoing, it is very clear that the legislative intent is to limit the exercise of the voting rights of Filipinos abroad under the Oversees Absentee Voting Act of 2003 to the election of the President, Vice-President, Senators and Party List Representatives only.  There is nothing in the law from which it can be reasonably inferred and/or deduced that it was the intention of the framers of the law to extend the participation of Filipinos abroad under the Act to referendums and/or plebiscites. “
Any debate on Charter change should be deemed incomplete and unjustifiable when the voices of our modern-day heroes are not heard through the ballot. Those who are in an extreme hurry to change the Constitution may not even consider amending the OAV Law to allow our OFWs to participate in a plebiscite. Legal issues and the rising tide of opposition to a fake People’s Initiative leads me to believe that all roads would still lead to the constitutionally mandated 2007 elections, which means our OFWs has another opportunity to exercise its right as a latent political bloc.
Our OFWs who are in the country right now and those who are about to leave for abroad can register as an absentee voter at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Blas F. Ople Building at the corner of Ortigas Avenue and EDSA. They can also register at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. For more questions, please get in touch with the Office of the Undersecretary for Special Concerns of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is headed by my good friend, Undersecretary Rafael Seguis. Mabuhay ang ating OFWs! (Note: Readers can download the OAV Law from the website of Chan, Robles & Associates (


Author: Susan Ople

Susan "Toots" Ople is the President of the Blas F. Ople Policy and Training Institute. She's an OFW and labor advocate based in the Philippines.

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  • So there is a glaring omission then limiting the OFWs’ powers to vote?

    The interest displayed by our OFWs in voting only shows that our love and concern for our country does not stop when we work abroad. As a former OFW myself, there is always an innate desire for national change and for things to get better.

    FYI, I changed my links already. Keep bloggin’. Almost two years na ako dito sa ating hobby pero addiktus pa rin, hahaha…