Senator Francis “Tol” Tolentino said on Thursday that he will question before the Supreme Court (SC) the constitutionality of the law requiring Filipino immigrants to execute an affidavit saying that they will return to the Philippines before they are allowed to vote.
Tolentino said he intends to file a petition regarding a provision of the Republic Act No. 9189, or the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003, which, he said, violates the right of “our OFWs (overseas Filipino workers), migrant workers, and our dual citizens” to suffrage.
“Under the Overseas [Absentee] Voting Act, there is a provision that they should sign an affidavit that they should return home after three years, and this is contrary to the fundamental right to vote,” he said.
“Marami po tayong mga kababayan sa Amerika, sa Hawaii, sa Guam, papipirmahin ka na bumalik ka kaagad (We have many countrymen in America, Hawaii, Guam, they we will asked them to return immediately). Eh ‘yong iba kumukuha ng green card, ‘yong iba talagang gustong magtrabaho nang pangmatagalan (But some of them are already applying for green card, some of them really wanted to work abroad for a long time),” he added.
“Kaya ang liit po ng ating voting numbers in terms of OFWs (That’s why our voting numbers from OFWs is small),” the administration senator lamented.
The Overseas Absentee Voting Act provides that Filipino citizens abroad aged at least 18 years old may vote for president, vice president, senators and party list representatives.
It, however, disqualifies those who have already lost their Filipino citizenship according to law, and those who have renounced their citizenship and pledged allegiance to foreign countries.
Immigrants and permanent residents abroad are also not eligible to vote unless they execute an affidavit “declaring that he/she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three years” after they are registered.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, who was the Senate president when the law was crafted and enacted, recalled that the provision was included to address issues on the residency of immigrants, which was also a condition to vote under the Constitution.
“There was an issue as to whether or not a green card holder is still a resident because a green card holder would indicate legally that the Filipino green card holder is no longer a resident of the Philippines. And if he is not a resident, question is raised on eligibility to vote. That is why the affidavit of return is to put on record animus revertendi or the intention to return. That was the purpose,” Drilon, who also served as a former labor and justice secretary, explained.
Nevertheless, Drilon said he agrees with Tolentino in planning to raise the constitutionality of the requirement before the SC “so that we can clarify this once and for all.”
But he corrected Tolentino and said that the requirement only applies to green card holders and not OFWs. The latter had cited as an example returning OFWs who were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There is no sense [in requiring them to execute an affidavit] because by the very nature of their work, they are temporary workers abroad, and therefore, there is always that intention to return. What I recall is this is for green card holders and not for OFWs,” Drilon said.
Senator Joel Villanueva also supported the initiative of Tolentino as this was also discussed during his time in the House of Representatives.
Asked on his thoughts, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III told Tolentino: “I will co-sign your petition.”