Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Failure of 2011- 2012 Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) Registration in Saudi Arabia

As an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) in Saudi Arabia, having failed to vote in previous elections, I am one of those who wish to have my voice heard in the coming 2013 election. The Philippine Embassy all over the world including in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia has already announced the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) registration last year. Here in Saudi Arabia, it began on 12 November 2011 and it ends on 31 October 2012.

Although the Philippine consular/embassy officials are campaigning rigorously for the success of the OAV registration, I believe that it will again be a BIG FAILURE because they did not learn their lessons. In the past, low turnout of registrants was attributed to the distance of the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh to other major cities in Saudi Arabia especially in the Eastern Province where most of the OFW are working. I guess this will be the big factor again for its failure.

As I am working in Jubail, Saudi Arabia, with no private car, I have to board a taxi going to Dammam in about a hour journey. This trip must be done early in the morning so that you can catch the SAPTCO bus going to Riyadh which leaves at around 7:00 in the morning for a FIVE hour journey. If you are lucky, you will reach Riyadh just before noon which you have to take a 50 Saudi Riyals (P550) taxi ride to the Philippine Embassy located in the Diplomatic Quarters. With definitely no long lines, you may finish your OAV registration in less than an hour. Again, a 50 Saudi Riyals taxi ride to the SAPTCO bus station for your return trip to Dammam. You may reach Dammam just before the evening prayer. If you are lucky, you can catch the SAPTCO bus going back to Jubail. All in all, you will spend a whole for your registration. AND that, IF and only IF you find a SAPTCO bus to Riyadh on your scheduled/preferred date. (As I tried to find a schedule on the website of SAPTCO going to Riyadh from Dammam, no trip schedule was showing for many dates I chose.)

Philippine Embassy in Riyadh

Getting a bus schedule is already a nightmare. How about the days of the OAV registration? As announced on their website, the schedule for OAV registration is from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM on Saturday to Wednesday and from 8:00 AM to 12 noon on Thursday. The Embassy is in fact happy to announce that they have Thursday schedule. BUT who will benefit the Thursday schedule? Only those OFWs who have half-day work on Thursday and who are living in RIYADH. Those living in the Eastern Province although they may have Thursday day-off cannot reach Riyadh before noon if they do not have private means of transportation. The Saturday to Wednesday schedule for many OFWs living in the Eastern Province is also no help UNLESS you ABSENT yourself from work, which means a loss income of at least 50 Saudi Riyals. There is no Friday schedule when most or all of the OFWs have their day-off.

With the above, the OAV registration in the Eastern Province will be a failure again because it is both hard for ordinary OFW to go to Riyadh travel and money-wise.

My suggestions for the OAV Registration to be a success:

1) Deputize Filipino organizations registered with the Philippine Embassy to process OAV registration;
2) Train Sky Freight Forwarders branch managers all over Saudi Arabia so that they can accept and process OAV registration; (TFC is all-over Saudi Arabia because of Sky Freight Forwarders.)
3) Make OAV registration be part of the "Embassy on Wheel" services (if not yet in the service);
4) Let Philippine Embassy in Riyadh accept and process OAV Registration online and by fax. In lieu of the COMELEC ID, they can temporarily give a CODED PIN or ID number to registrants which they will present during election day;
5) An option of voting by mail;
6) Have voting centers in major cities and towns in Saudi Arabia where most OFWs are concentrated and administered by Community Leaders.

With these suggestions, I believe many OFWs shall register and vote in 2013.

It is disappointing to note that many Philippine Embassy officials are just talking to the media with no specific solutions to the problem. If the OFWs cannot come to the Embassy because of work commitment, let the Embassy or their deputies go to the OFWs. It is as simple as that!

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