Exercising their rights: Will Filipinos overseas vote in 2019?

MANILA, Philippines – It isn't just Philippine residents who get to choose the country's future leaders on election day – thousands of our countrymen who live and work abroad can also exercise their right to vote even when they’re miles away.

When it comes to politics, the sentiments of our kababayans abroad could be exactly the same or vastly different from those of the majority in the country. 

During the 2016 elections, President Rodrigo Duterte won among overseas absentee voters (OAVs), mirroring nationwide results. But instead of Vice President Leni Robredo, OAVs voted for former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr as their vice president. (READ: Overseas absentee voting: Duterte, Marcos win)

OAVs were considered "game-changers" during the 2016 elections, with over one million registered across the world. The same could be said in 2019, with almost two million registered overseas voters choosing who they want in those "magic 12" senatorial seats.

How do OAVs vote?

The Overseas Absentee Voting Act was passed in 2003, allowing Filipinos overseas to vote for the first time during the 2004 elections. By law, all Filipino citizens abroad who are at least 18 years old can vote for who they want to be president, vice-president, senators, and party-list representatives.

These OAVs are registered through the Commission on Elections (Comelec) representative in Philippine embassies and consulates located in areas where they live. Ballots are made available to OAVs 30 days before election day, during which they are allowed to cast their vote. Seafarers are allowed to cast their vote 60 days before the day of elections.

In some countries, where the mailing systems are well-developed and secure, OAVs may also mail in their ballots.

Afterwards, the Comelec counts and canvasses the votes that they receive before the close of election day.

How many overseas Filipinos and OAVs are there?

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) reports that there is a total of 2,281,364 registered Filipino emigrants from 1981 to 2016. Most of them are based in the US (1,403,282), Canada (439,479), and Japan (143, 067).

The table below shows all of the countries with Filipino emigrants who have registered with the CFO from 1981 to 2016.


On the other hand, as of February 21, there’s a total of 1,822,173 registered OAVs, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs. That number is split into two: the 1,376,067 land-based Filipinos from all over the world and 43,033 seafarers.

Hover over the map below to see the total number of OAVs in each country.

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Ahead of the 2016 elections, the Comelec aimed to increase the number of registered OAVs to two million. They may have failed to reach their target, but there was a 46.39% improvement between 2013 and 2016.

For land-based voters, the region with the most number of registered OAVs in 2019 is the Middle East, followed by Asia Pacific, the Americas, and Europe.

Hover over the chart below to see how many have registered over the years.

Seafarers who have registered to be OAVs number 43,033 as of 2019. This is less than 2016’s 49,339. According to the Comelec, the most seafaring OAVs are from Europe (22,433), followed by North and Latin America (10,468), Asia Pacific (7,662), and the Middle East and Africa (2,470).


Do all registered OAVs vote?

Unfortunately, despite the increase in registered voters, voter turnout for OAVs has been consistently low since 2004. In 2016, only 430,695 or 31.30% of the total 1,822,173 registered OAVs cast their votes.

Still, this was considered record-breaking, because it was the highest voter turnout in the past decade. Below is the voter turnout from the previous years:


Voting posts with the highest number of voter turnout in 2016 were in Geneva, Sweden (67.57%), Jakarta, Indonesia (60.82%), and Vientiane, Laos (58.91%).

The posts with the lowest voter turnout were the ones in New Delhi, India (10.60%), Pretoria, South Africa (10.43%), and Lisbon, Portugal (37.30%).

Voting in Baghdad, Iraq; Damascus, Syria; and Tripoli, Libya was suspended in 2016 due to ongoing conflict in those areas.

Click "show more" on the chart below to see the voter turnout results for all posts.


According to Comelec Director III Elaiza S. Sabile-David, low OAV turnout could be due to 3 factors:

To address the lack of information, Sabile-David said the Comelec’s Office of Overseas Voting constantly updates its website and has increased social media presence. OAVs can message them on Facebook and Twitter regarding their concerns.

And while they did not have a goal for registered OAVs this year, they do have a goal to increase voter turnout compared to the last midterm election.  

“In 2013, [voter turnout] was only 16%,” Sabile-David said. “For this 2019 midterm elections, hopefully that would be something more than 16%, around 20% or more, hopefully.”

Will the Comelec's efforts this year pay off? Only time will tell. OAVs will be casting their votes from April 13 to May 13. – Rappler.com

Vernise Tantuco

Vernise Tantuco is on Rappler's Research Team, fact checking suspicious claims, wrangling data, and telling stories that need to be heard.