On Democratically Ushering in a New Philippine President

by Carolyn Weygan-Hildebrand

The six-year term of Rodrigo Duterte as president of the Philippines is almost over. Around 67.5 million Filipinos have registered to vote and democratically usher in a new president.

In Hawaii, the 2022 Philippine Presidential election opened on April 10 and will end on May 9 at 1:00 am. Over 8,450 Filipino or dual citizens are on the Commission on Elections list for Hawaii and American Samoa.

Voters here can cast their ballots by mail or in person. There is only one drop-off location: the Philippine Consulate Honolulu on 2433 Pali Highway. For Filipino seafarers, the Consulate has set up mobile voting at Honolulu Piers 17 and 36.

The need for local vigilance and diligence in this election process was evident at the April 8 Halalan 2022 virtual town meeting of the Hawaii Philippine Business Economic Council (HPBEC).

At the virtual conference, Consul Grace Anne Bulos elaborated on the mechanics of overseas voting in Hawaii. She reminded voters to follow instructions for their ballots not to be invalidated.

Communication stood out as the foremost issue from the listeners, for official dissemination of information has been limited. Official updates are shared only via the government’s official website (https://honolulupcg.dfa.gov.ph/) and Facebook page (https://fb.com/PHinHonolulu).

“Disenfranchisement” is a shared concern of overseas Filipino voters worldwide, including in Hawaii. While voting started on April 10, many voters in major U.S. cities report not receiving their ballots. “The last few votes were mailed out this morning,” Bulos said last April 21.

Undeliverable election packets are an outstanding issue. Consulate representatives explain that the election packets in their hands include those returned by the U.S. Postal Service and those of voters who listed the Consulate as a “care of” address.

The Consulate initially released the names of 554 voters who needed to claim their ballots from the Consulate. As of April 21, only 10 voters submitted the required documents to claim their ballots. As of this writing, the list of 554 grew to 615.

Those who received their packets in the 2016 and 2019 elections, and did not change addresses, will have no reason to think that they are on the list of 615. However, if they still have not received their ballots, they should contact the “Special Ballot Reception and Custody Group” at Honolulu.pcg@dfa.gov.ph.

One voter has done so early, but his case is unresolved. His ballot was mailed to a pre-2016 address, but no one at that address returned it to the U.S. post office. A new ballot cannot be issued to him. He is afraid that he will not be able to vote despite his effort to track down his ballot.

A dual citizen started voting in 2016, but she saw her name on the latest list. She did not have a reason to be on said list, for she has not changed her address. She cannot easily claim her ballot in person because she lives in Maui.

Both stories happened to be from the Kakampink movement supporting Vice President Leni Robredo for president. As of writing, stories from supporters of other candidates have yet to be collected.

Based on the latest Consulate advisory, those on the list could have their ballots mailed if they contacted the Consulate and completed the requirements by April 30. Those unable to do so will need to claim their ballots in person at the Consulate, which is more convenient only for Oahu residents.

The watchdog, “Kontra Daya” (meaning against cheating), encourages these kinds of cases to be reported to help examine if there has been systemic disenfranchisement due to a faulty COMELEC voters list.

Its website, kontradaya.org, posted a unity statement seeking widespread resistance to widespread fraud. The watchdog group advocates that all who have the right to vote should be provided the opportunity to cast their ballots.

To this end, the Consulate set up a mobile outreach to Filipino seafarers who are not allowed by U.S. laws to venture any more than a few feet from their docked boats.

Consulate officials have been coming to check on the seafarers’ welfare, and last year, they also came for voter registration. According to a recent Consulate advisory, seafarers can vote at mobile election booths at Piers 17 and 36 on selected days and times. As of writing, the remaining scheduled times are from 5:30 to 7:00 pm on May 3 and 6.

Pastor Jerry Saludez of the Hawaii Seafarers Ministry estimated that seafarers are crew to some 150 local fishing boats. With about five crew members in a boat, he calculated roughly about 750 seafarers, of which 75% are Filipinos. Not all, though, could vote in this election. Many did not register to vote as seafarers, and some could not recall the last time they voted.

Seafarers could vote anywhere if they indicated that they were seafarers at registration time, and their names are included in the official Commission on Election Seafarers list.

On April 26, after the Consular officials left, Saludez reported that two seafarers were able to vote at Pier 36 and none at Pier 17. The nature of fishing is that boats and seafarers do not return to shore regularly, and their presence at the Piers will not always coincide with the Consulate’s mobile outreach schedules. He lauds the Consulate officials for going the extra mile and come after regular office hours.

Each ballot is unique to a voter. The voting ballot is practically irreplaceable, and voters cannot use someone else’s ballot to vote. Each voter cannot even mistake affixing another voter’s seal in their envelope. Voters must keep all these in mind.

Overseas voters who received their ballots are encouraged to vote early and treat the ballot with sacredness meaning voters must do all they can to make their votes count.

Bulos reminded all of the need to follow the election packet’s instructions properly. A voter said she did not open her packet right away but waited until she had a quiet time and was away from distraction. She followed instructions carefully and then mailed back her ballot early. A mother with two children was planning to do the same, to assure that she would make the right choices and her ballot would not be accidentally damaged.

Lessons are learned from actual ballot-feeding, such as one on April 29 at the Philippine Consulate. There was only a handful of rejected or spoiled ballots during the ballot-feeding for the observed precinct.

The machine that scanned and recorded the ballots jammed a few times, and each ballot was retrieved gently and re-fed. The device ultimately rejected two ballots, one for seeming like a duplicate ballot and the other for appearing like a fake ballot.

Votes cast and received by the Consulate are processed twice a week, and this means that the April 29 feeding was worth half a week of ballots received. The process of ballot feeding can be observed and checked by accredited poll watchers, media entities, and other observers.

Voters can see that the following actual cases do not happen to them. An envelope can be considered questionable if a voter inadvertently or advertently printed a different name from the registered one. Some of the actual cases of spoiled or invalidated ballots include the following:

– The envelope did not have the required seal.
– The seal was affixed on the ballot and not the envelope.
– The voter affixed his signature on the ballot when the only place a voter should connect their signature was on the envelope.
– Instead of shading circles using a black pen, checkmarks were affixed.
– Other marks on the ballot, such as a sharpie mark flaw, caused the machine to reject the ballot.

The scanning machine automatically invalidates if there is more than one shaded circle for the position of president and vice president, more than 12 for the Senators, and more than one for the Party-List.

The election in Hawaii will close at 1 am on Monday, May 9. The final ballot-feeding and vote count follow right after.  

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