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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2003

Philippine voting law seen as too strict

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

Tens of thousands of Philippine citizens who live in Hawai'i may vote in national Philippines elections next year under an absentee-voter law enacted there last month.

But many in the Filipino community, who have kept strong ties to the homeland for decades, say the measure is too restrictive, and want the Philippines to allow dual citizenship.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, Filipinos in the United States have been encouraged to seek American citizenship to avoid deportation, said Rose Churma, vice chairwoman of the Filipino Community Center. These people wouldn't be able to vote in Philippines elections without dual citizenship, she said.

Many Filipinos with U.S. citizenship have an interest in how their homeland is run, said Yolanda Ortega Stern, president of the U.S. Federation of Philippine American Chambers of Commerce, one of the groups planning to lobby heavily for dual citizenship. About 97 percent of those who answered the group's online survey (www.fpacc.com) indicated an interest in owning property in the Philippines, Stern said.

"A lot of folks send money home to support families, support businesses," Churma said. "Instead of investing it here, they're sending it back home. If we're doing that, we have to have a say also in how things get carried out there."

For now, the estimated 7.8 million Philippine nationals who live outside their home country will be able to cast absentee votes, beginning with the May 2004 election.

Absentee voters must sign an affidavit saying they intend to move back to the Philippines within three years of the election. That requirement was included after critics expressed concern over how expatriate voters would alter the political landscape.

Many community leaders here feel that will deter Philippine nationals in Hawai'i from voting.

Rolando Gregorio, Philippines consul general in Hawai'i, estimated the number of potential voters in Hawai'i to be as high as 50,000.

"That is high; it could be lower than 10,000," Gregorio said. "It will depend on the interest."

"The requirement that a registrant should file an affidavit stating an intent to return to the Philippines within three years could be a deterrent, especially since the law includes a clause that penalizes those who file an intent to return but do not act on that intent," said Jun Colmenares, a Philippine national who filed to become a permanent U.S. resident five years ago.

Reach Vicki Viotti at vviotti@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8053.