The right to vote – a human right


Senator Francis N. Tolentino

Article V of our 1987 Constitution provides that suffrage – the right to vote – may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen (18) years of age, and who shall have resided: (i) in the Philippines for at least one (1) year; and (ii) in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six (6) months immediately preceding the day of the election. No other substantive requirements, such as literacy or property requirements, shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.

In the international sphere, this right to vote in political elections is enshrined in Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which recognizes and declares that genuine elections shall express the will of the people through universal and equal suffrage to be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 25, further recognizes every citizen’s right and opportunity to vote, without distinction of any kind and unreasonable restrictions. The Philippines, as a State Party to the ICCPR and UDHR, must ensure that universal and equal suffrage is respected for all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction. As such, the adoption of the necessary laws or other measures to give effect to the right to vote for all must be ensured.

As a legislator, a perusal of our election laws, rules, and regulations over the years brought the following to my attention:

Overseas Absentee Voting

Before the amendment of Republic Act No. 9189, otherwise known as “The Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003,” an immigrant or permanent resident who is recognized as such in the host country was required to execute, upon registration, an affidavit that he/she shall resume actual physical permanent residence in the Philippines not later than three years from approval of his/her registration as overseas absentee voter.

The failure to return shall be the cause for the removal of his/her name from the National Registry of Absentee Voters and the permanent disqualification to vote in absentia.

Republic Act No. 10590, in recognition of suffrage as a human right, amended the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 and dispensed with the execution of an affidavit to return within a 3-year period.

Persons Deprived of Liberty

For Persons Deprived of Liberty (PDL) awaiting the final resolution of their criminal cases, the right to suffrage is preserved because they are only charged with a crime and not yet convicted with finality.
From 2021 data from the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), more than 90 percent of the population of jails supervised by the BJMP comprises of inmates incarcerated due to pending cases in courts.

Under Section 155 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC), “no polling place shall be located within the perimeter or inside a military or police camp or reservation or within a prison compound.” This provision clearly prohibits voting activities for election within the prison compound.

Although the Commission on Elections (Comelec), by virtue of its issued resolutions since 2012, allows the PDL to vote in the prison compound, there is still a need to repeal Section 155 of the OEC to avoid any question as to the legality of the votes casted by our PDLs. A successful repeal of this provision would remove any threat of their disenfranchisement.

Filipino Seafarers

Our current laws, rules, and regulations allow seafarers to vote by going to the nearest embassy or consular post during the 30-day voting period. However, most seafarers are at sea for six months, which is the usual duration of their contracts.

For the upcoming elections, there are 19,584 seafarers who are registered voters as per Comelec data. What would happen to the votes of those who are at sea during the voting period?

In my view, the Comelec should strive to acquire an online voting technology that would enable seafarers to vote while at sea. In the alternative, Comelec may opt to deputize Filipino captains of Philippine-flagged vessels – which, notably, are considered part of Philippine territory under our laws. The deputized captain would then oversee the casting of ballots by the Filipino seafarers under their authority while at sea. These would ensure that our Filipino seafarers could vote regardless of their location.

As we are just four days away from the May 9, 2022 elections, it should be remembered that every vote counts. As voters, we should make sure to exercise our right to vote – a human right – that can and will make an impact and a difference. As society leaders, we should safeguard the right to suffrage by promoting and ensuring the universal and equal right to vote.