MANILA, Philippines – Filipino voters were dismayed after the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong ended voting early on the first day of the overseas election on Sunday, April 10, according to a community group leader.
United Filipinos in Hong Kong (Unifil) – Migrante chairperson Dolores Balladares Pelaez said overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) were “angered (galit na galit)” as many had woken up early, enthusiastic to vote, but were unable to do so as the consulate began to stop accepting more voters in its queue by noon.
The scheduled voting was meant to be from 8 am to 5 pm on Sunday – the designated day off for most OFWs in Hong Kong.
“Ito ang sinasabi namin noon sa Comelec (Commission on Elections), sa konsulado, na disenfranchisement dahil nakikita namin na ang limang VCM (vote-counting machines) na ginagamit ngayon sa pagboto ay hindi sapat para ma-accommodate ang 93,000 na mga botante dito sa Hong Kong,” said Pelaez in a Facebook broadcast.
(This is what we had been telling the Comelec, the consulate – the disenfranchisement because we can see that the five VCMs that are being used for the election here are not enough to accommodate the 93,000 voters here in Hong Kong.)
According to the consulate, they stopped voting early in the day to control crowds. Hong Kong’s new daily COVID-19 cases are beginning to slow down after a massive surge from February to March, when tens of thousands of new cases were reported in a day.
In an advisory, the consulate said one of the conditions the Hong Kong government gave was strict compliance with anti-pandemic measures.
“Thus, to ensure effective crowd control and compliance with anti-pandemic measures, the Consulate General upon the recommendation of the Hong Kong police wishes to announce that today’s capacity to accept voters has reached its limit,” the consulate said.
The consulate appealed for voters to come back another time during the nonstop 30-day period until election day in the Philippines, or May 9. It also appealed for employers to allow their employees to vote during weekdays “when crowds are substantially thinner.”
A total of 3,285 Filipinos cast their votes at the Bayanihan Kennedy Town Centre on April 10, the consulate reported on Sunday evening. Of the number, 98% were women.
Of the cast ballots, three were rejected due to damage and “unnecessary marks.” There were no technical issues with the VCMs, the consulate said, and neither did the rejected ballots receive protests.
Pelaez called for the Philippine consulate to add more VCMs to accommodate more voters. The consulate reported in its final testing and sealing of the machines on April 7 that there were five.
Hong Kong is the fourth most vote-rich country in the 2022 elections, with 93,883 registered voters.
Representatives from overseas Filipino groups in other countries also raised the alarm over possible disenfranchisement due to an apparent lack of outreach from embassies and consulates on voting processes until the final days before the overseas voting period began. – Rappler.com