This was Estrada's stock response to all who lobbied for some kind of government action.
There is truth to it, but it is an irresponsible answer to the voting rights issue. First,
the right to vote is a basic, fundamental right. It is not a fringe benefit that can wait.
It is not a matter of government choice but a matter of fundamental necessity. Second, it
is the government's duty to find and manage resources, to cut the waste and be
resourceful. Third, we will study all options to minimize cost. One idea tried by other
countries is to partner with the host country in administering the elections. The
partnership involves using the host country's registration and voting facilities. NGOs
based overseas have also indicated willingness to assist in voter education, information
dissemination, registration, and guarding of the ballots. There is also no need to hire
new resources to administer the elections, as the COMELEC can simply deputize existing
staff at consulates overseas. Volunteer organizations, party representatives (who may also
be based overseas), COMELEC deputies, and the voters are what these elections are all
about. All they need are basic logistics and some practical safeguards against fraud.
Fear of fraud.
The use of the postal system in overseas voting, many argue, creates a higher possibility
of fraud, because it creates more opportunities for tampering and for the deliberate loss
or destruction of ballots. First, it is important to emphasize that, contrary to
misconceptions, mailing in ballots is not the only option. To protect the integrity of the
votes, some countries require physical presence at a voting center (often the nearest
consulate). Requiring a passport as proof of citizenship, identity, and age can also be a
strong deterrent, especially with the recent availability of an electronic database of all
Philippine passport holders.
It should also be pointed out that fraud is unlikely to happen while the ballots are in
the possession of the host country's postal service agents, as they are unlikely to have
any motive to connive. If counting is to be done in the host country, fraud is therefore
less of a concern. If the law requires sending the ballots to the Philippines, then the
risk may indeed be higher. We will oppose such law.
There is also a strong philosophical response to this concern: Just because we cannot
guarantee that there will be no cheating does mean that we disenfranchise our citizens. It
is common knowledge that election fraud occurs in many places in the Philippines and is
rampant in identified areas, but just because we know that they are likely to occur does
not mean we strip certain voters of their right to vote. The bottom-line issue is whether
overseas Filipino citizens should exercise their fundamental right to vote. We are
certainly committed to doing everything to minimize if not eliminate fraud.