(Commission on Election Logo)

MANILA, Feb 1 (Mabuhay) — A joint panel of the Senate and House of Representatives has approved the measure seeking to amend the existing Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) law.

Senate electoral reforms committee chair Sen. Koko Pimentel said that the bicameral conference committee approved the reconciled versions of the measure.

The measure, however, will still need to be ratified by both Houses of Congress before it can be submitted to President Benigno Aquino III for signing.

“Ratification [will be] next week,” he said.

Under the bill, Filipino immigrants abroad would no longer need to execute an affidavit stating that they will return to the Philippines within three years before they are allowed to vote in absentia.

“The affidavit requiring overseas Filipinos to come back within three years or face permanent deletion from the Comelec registry is a serious obstacle to our citizens’ right to vote. That affidavit, which is a legal government document, shall not only be binding on the potential registrant but also on the future of their families as well,” said Pimentel after the approval of the measure in the Senate earlier this week.

Under the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003, an immigrant or a permanent resident must execute upon registration, an affidavit prepared by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declaring that he or she “shall resume actual physical permanent residence” in the Philippines not later than three years from approval of his or her registration.

“Such affidavit shall also state that he/she has not applied for citizenship in another country. Failure to return shall be the cause for the removal of the name of the immigrant or permanent resident from the National Registry of Absentee Voters and his/her permanent disqualification to vote in absentia,” it said.

Pimentel said that there are 915,000 OAV applicants for 2013 compared to 589,830 in 2010. Only 153, 323 or 25 percent voted that year.

With the removal of the condition to execute an affidavit, he said this number will increase.

“I am optimistic that ten times a million OAV votes may be possible in 2016 and beyond, with the enactment of Senate Bill 3312,” he said.

“2016 is not far away. Ten million voters, 10 million voices can decide the fate of the next administration. But that journey to politically empower the OFW sector must begin now,” he added.(MNS)