Purging OFW voting list a betrayal

In what many call a “betrayal,” the Commission on Elections may purge about half of 589,000 overseas Filipino workers from the official voters roll for failure to vote in two consecutive election cycles.

About 246,000 OFWs may lose their chance to vote in the May 2013 elections if the Comelec carries out its threat to take these Filipinos off the list – unless they avail their “last chance” to be retained in the National Registry of Overseas Absentee Voters (NROAV).

Writing from San Francisco, lawyer Rodel Rodis, a community activist, said the Comelec promulgated rules, that, in effect, will deny the OFWs the right to vote, unless they signify their intention to vote in May.

Rodis wrote that only 29 of 238,557 overseas absentee voters “manifested” their intent to vote, as of Jan. 11, 2013, leaving the vast majority out of the election loop.

It’s a shame that the Comelec could do something drastic when some kind of accommodations may still be possible, like keeping these workers on the voting list, regardless of whether they voted in the past or not.

No harm is done in keeping them on the rolls – after all, they may be too busy with their work in some God-forgotten spot in the world to travel to a voting center – but we show our appreciation and recognition of their contributions by simply making it possible to have their voices heard through their votes.

***

The Inquirer’s Neal Cruz wrote a pretty compelling column recently about Calicoan in Guiaun, Eastern Samar with its pristine beaches and a tourist destination even better than Boracay.

His description was glowing, and as a Waray-Waray from the place, you swell with pride. He wrote: “There are caves to explore. There are tourist resorts in Guiuan that are first-class, serving the freshest seafoods anywhere: lobster, crab, grouper, blue marlin, tuna, abalone, sea cucumber, squid, octopus, etc. Take your sweetheart there this Valentine’s Day.

“Calicoan Island is an ideal place not only for surfing but also for island-hopping, swimming, boating, diving, spelunking, jungle trekking, and rock and wall climbing. It is surrounded by virgin forests where you can watch wildlife.

“Why is Calicoan better than Boracay? Besides having its own airport and therefore nearer, it is bigger than Boracay. It has 1,600 hectares to Boracay’s 1,024 hectares. Boracay has only one beach but Calicoan has two—one facing the Pacific Ocean and the other facing Leyte Gulf.”

***

Indeed, I agree it’s a treasure yet not fully tapped. I do think, however, that Neal is slightly misinformed about the airport in Guiaun. Its World War II-era runways are strewn with tall weeds and hardly possesses the modern terminal equipment to qualify as an international airport.

To make it safe for international travel, huge airport improvements have to be made. Forget about the legislator trying to stop it’s operation. Common sense stops it from being operational now.

It could be a political football, however, between two politicians from opposite ends of the province who are running for the lone congressional seat. And that would be tragic. The long-neglected area needs some break.

First step should be road improvements. I visited the place a few months back on my way to Sulangan, the pilgrimage town that was the epicenter of the 7.9 September earthquake, and the road through the towns of Mercedes and Salcedo and in pretty bad shape.

Improve the roadway and that would considerably boost Calicoan and Guiaun, not only as fun destinations, but more so as popular sites for religious pilgrimages and historical explorations.

Consider: Homonhon Island, which the explorer Magellan first landed on when he discovered the Philippines in 1521, and Balangiga, a nearby town where the infamous Balangiga Massacre at the turn of the century took place.

Nature’s assets are there; what’s missing is the political will.

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