Manila: A senator is seeking answers over the “dismal” turnout for the recently-concluded absentee vote, as he pointed out that low voter interest occurred despite the increase in funds for the political exercise.

Senator Franklin Drilon said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) needed to explain why, despite the funds, fewer Filipinos abroad were taking part in the political exercise.

“I hate to sound like a broken record, but I again deplore the dismal implementation of the absentee voting law in the just-concluded midterm elections,” said Drilon, one of the principal sponsors of the Republic Act No. 9189, known as the Overseas Absentee Voting Act.

The law on Overseas Absentee Voting was enacted by Congress in February, 2003, so Filipinos working and living abroad could exercise their constitutional right to vote. Comelec and DFA provided Filipinos abroad with one month to send their votes ahead of their counterparts in the Philippines. In comparison, those voting at home had only one day to vote, which was on May 13.

Over the years, Congress has allotted an increasing budget to DFA and Comelec agencies abroad to allow more Filipinos outside the country to vote. However, instead of attracting more voters, the number of Philippines nationals interested in exercising their right to choose their leaders and legislators appears to be dropping. “I want the DFA and the Comelec to explain why,” said Drilon.

“Its seems that less and less Filipinos abroad are inclined to exercise their right to vote, contrary to the intention of Congress when this law was enacted,” the senior Senator said.

Drilon, who presided over the deliberation of the 2013 national budget in the Senate in September last year, pointed out that P105 million (Dh9,3 million) had been allocated to the Comelec and another P43.41 million was allocated to the DFA for the implementation of the absentee vote in 2013.

“With only 113,209 overseas Filipinos voting, the cost of each absentee vote is now P1,310 per vote. This is outrageous. I wonder how the Comelec and the DFA can justify these numbers,” Drilon said.

Drilon disclosed that of the 737,759 Filipinos who applied to take part in the 2013 mid-term elections, only 113,209 actually voted — a voter turnout of only 15.35 per cent.

“This turn out,” Drilon noted, “is way below the already low 26 per cent overseas absentee voting turnout during the 2010 elections.”

In comparison, absentee voting turnout during the 2010 elections totalled 153,323 — which Drilon had already lamented by then. That number represented only 26 per cent of the 589,830 registered absentee voters for the presidential and general elections absentee vote.

“When we crafted the absentee voting law, we wanted to empower the overseas Filipino workers in the hope that at least they can influence the result of the election by electing qualified leaders,” recalled Drilon. “However, the turnout is getting more and more disappointing as elections go by.”