190 expatriate Filipinos sign up for election

By Katie Worth
Pacific Daily News; kworth@guampdn.com

Yesterday was the last day for expatriate Filipinos to register to vote in next May's presidential election -- but very few have.

According to Charmaine Aviquivil, Philippine vice consul on Guam, as of 3 p.m. yesterday, only 190 of the approximately 2,000 Filipinos on Guam who are eligible to register had done so.

What's more, she said, those numbers are reflective of the low numbers of Filipino nationals around the world who have registered.

The reason for the low turnout, according to Aviquivil and others interviewed yesterday, is confusion about eligibility and possible consequences of voting.

According to Aviquivil, of the 40,000 people of Philippine descent in Guam, those eligible to vote will be at least 18 years old by May 10, must be Philippine citizens and hold a Philippine passport, and -- here's the catch -- intend to establish permanent residency in the Philippines in the next three years.

If the person does not do that, she said, they may be "blacklisted" and not allowed to vote in future elections.

In August, Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo signed the Citizenship Retention and Re-acquisition Act into law. It applies to people who were born in the Philippines but who had renounced their citizenship for naturalization into another country, and it allowed them to apply for dual citizenship.

This dual citizenship would have allowed more people to register to vote, but no rules or regulations were ever written to support that law, and consequences of voting are unclear. Some people are afraid that it could mean losing citizenship elsewhere, Aviquivil said, because one of the requirements was an oath of allegiance to the Philippines.

That law was intended to go into effect Sept. 17, but because of the confusion, a provision was made that people who applied would not be able to vote in the next election anyway.

"Even we (in the consulate office) are confused," Aviquivil said. "After this series of pronouncements and then new sets of revisions to the guidelines, we ourselves have been confused. ... All over the United States they have the same problem -- we're still waiting for the guidelines to be drafted."

Debates

Rene Quintans, the president of the Filipino Community of Guam, the umbrella organization for dozens of Filipino clubs on Guam, said he was one of the many people eligible who did not register to vote.

"I did not because I wasn't really sure of the consequences. It's not been made clear to us," Quintans said.

He said he noticed that when the subject was brought up in the Filipino community, it resulted in heated debates.

"It becomes a very passionate deliberation. Some are (asking) if they vote, would their vote be protected or not. ... Will our vote count, really?" Quintans said. "We've been looking forward to this for the longest time, but I believe it was done in haste."

Emilio Uy, chairman of the FCG board of trustees, said he, too, had not registered.

"I'm not holding a Filipino passport right now, and I know the dual-citizenship deal was approved, but it's not very clear yet what are the guidelines, so we can't really rush into something we don't understand fully," he said.

He said the requirement to return to the Philippines within three years probably detracted many people also, but that the low numbers also may reflect apathy within the community.

"Right now it's not really a big topic," he said. "Those who are here just for temporary residence, maybe they are very excited and very interested, but for those who are already long-term residents here on Guam, I think for them it's not really that important if they have the right to vote or not."

TO THE POINT

Only 190 of about 2,000 expatriate Filipinos eligible to register to vote in the Philippine presidential election next May had done so as of 3 p.m. yesterday. The low turnout has been echoed worldwide, because of confusion about eligibility and possible consequences of voting, according to officials.

01/10/2003

Bron : Pacific Daily News

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