LIKE other migrant workers, Filipino seafarers have the constitutional right to elect government officials of their choice as part of their contribution to efforts to preserve the democratic ideals in the country.
However lamentable, saddening and disgusting are reports that many of our seamen aboard ocean-going vessels are deprived of their supreme right of suffrage because they are at sea most of the time.
Although the current process allows our seamen to vote by going to the nearest Philippine embassy or consular office during elections, most seafarers are at sea for six months, the usual duration of their contracts.
This prompted neophyte Senator Francis “Tol”N. Tolentino to call on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to come up with a system designed to enable Filipino seafarers to exercise their right of suffrage.
Tolentino aired the call during last Wednesday’s Senate hearing on the plight of Filipino mariners. It was conducted by the committee on electoral reforms and people’s participation under Sen. Imee R. Marcos.
Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez shared the view of Tolentino, adding the poll body is studying ways to provide seamen various avenues to cast their votes during an election, which is democracy in action.
And the poll body has not yet made use of online voting technology to allow these overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to vote while in the high seas, according to the soft-spoken lawmaker.
He urged the poll body to deputize Filipino captains of Philippine-flagged vessels, which are considered part of the country’s territory under international law, to supervise the casting of ballots by sailors.
In the view of many Filipinos, it is important that the country’s seafarers voice their will in the selection of government officials or in the determination of political issues of paramount concern.
As the late Election Commissioner Cesar Miraflor once said in the 1960s, the right of suffrage, which is rooted in the traditions of freedom sacred to man, should be “safeguarded at all times.”