The head of the country's absentee voting secretariat on Wednesday admitted that the government's 80-percent target of Filipinos casting their ballots overseas for this year's elections is no longer attainable.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Rafael Seguis, the concurrent chairman of the Overseas Voting Secretariat, lamented that out of the 1,376,067 registered Filipino absentee voters, only 184,327 or 13.40 percent have voted since the balloting started abroad on April 9.
"To be realistic, as of today the total average of turnout is 13.40 percent so it might be unrealistic to hope for 80 percent and we only have two weeks left. We will be happy to at least have a 50 percent turnout," Seguis said in an interview.
This year's registered overseas voters is the highest ever since overseas absentee voting was first implemented in 2004.
As of April 26, Middle East had the highest turnout of overseas Filipino voters with 85,176, followed by Asia-Pacific with 68,730, Europe with 18,399, and the Americas, which include the United States and Canada, with 12,022.
Hong Kong and Singapore still topped the list of areas with the most number of voters in Asia since April 9 with 23,646 and 22,338, respectively. In the Middle East, Dubai had 18,053, Riyadh 12,131, Abu Dhabi 12,043, Jeddah 9,507 and Doha 8,831.
Rome leads in Europe with 3,050, followed by Madrid 2,364, Milan 2,510, and London 2,027.
In the Americas, Washington had the highest turnout so far with 2,925, followed by San Francisco 1,942, and New York with 1,900.
Seguis said he expects a surge of voters in the final stretch of voting, but the figures will still be below the government’s 80-percent target.
"I’m a bit disappointed because we have more than 800,000 plus new registered voters but only 180,000 plus have so far voted so there’s a really huge difference," he said.
He said he is anticipating more voters in the last two remaining weekends before the May 9 deadline – Friday and Saturday in the Middle East and Saturday and Sunday in other regions – because these are the designated days-off for Filipino workers.
"Usually it's last minute voting. We hope that by the end of next week we will have a higher voter turnout. It could get higher by May 9," he said.
"We will be very happy if we get at least 50 percent. At this point in time, the situation is not that bright. It’s hard to get the 80 percent target," he added.
Seguis said he has seen a great interest among Filipinos for this year’s national elections, but time and the location of the voting centers have prevented many of them from casting their ballots, resulting to a dismal voter turnout.
In some areas, particularly in the Middle East, field voting or voting outside the Philippine Embassy is prohibited.
"They are allowed to vote only in embassies or consulates which are far from there they are located," he said.
But Seguis believes more cities abroad will be able to catch up like in the United States, where the Commission on Elections is implementing postal voting.
"Probably they will have a high turnout," he said.
Apart from transport accessibility, mobility of Filipino workers, specifically the seafarers, is also a problem.
With two more weeks left, Seguis urged more Filipinos to go out and vote, saying overseas Filipinos are considered “game-changers” in the country’s political and democratic process.
"I appeal to you to please exercise your right to vote," he said.
"Don’t wait for the long lines at our embassies and consulates because we have limited vote counting machines," Seguis added. "Don’t wait for the last minute. You went through great lengths just to register so you might as well vote." —KBK, GMA News