Why Filipino overseas votes matter
Ariel Endaya, an architect in Qatar, has been an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) for almost 10 years now. During the Martial Law years in the Philippines, he was an activist. After the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos, he concentrated on his studies and later worked overseas.
Knowing the power of the people through the electoral process, Endaya registered as an absentee voter and was able to vote from overseas during the presidential election in 2016. He also relentlessly campaigns for his senatorial bets in the midterm election to be held on May 13, 2019.
Back in the Philippines, many Filipinos are still unaware that migrant workers can vote abroad. In social media, it is common to read comments bashing the Filipinos abroad who are active in the political discussions or those who criticize President Rodrigo Duterte for his all-out sale of the Philippines to China, unfair policies, and his words encouraging killings and rapes.
Since the 70s, Filipinos have been migrating to work, to study, and to find a “better life.” These Filipinos abroad have kept the Philippine economy afloat, but only in 2003 were they given a voice to choose their leaders through the electoral process.
Overseas Absentee Voting Act
With over 10 million Filipinos abroad, many holding dual citizenship, and around 2 million OFWs, the role of the overseas Filipinos cannot be discounted in the political arena.
Since the enactment of the Republic Act No.9189 or the ‘Overseas Absentee Voting Act’ on February 13, 2003, Filipino citizens residing or working outside the country are allowed to vote in the national elections.
According to Commission on Election (COMELEC) spokesperson James Jimenez, the latest total of overseas absentee voters reached 1,789,823, an increase of 77% compared to the 2016 elections. The Middle East and Africa had a 97% rise in registered voters with 889, 114. This was followed by Asia and Pacific with 388,619 voters. Americas have 337,060 registered voters and there are 175,030 voters in Europe. Hence, national candidates have been wooing the OFWs, particularly those in the Middle East with a large concentration of Filipinos.
Justine Abrugena, an Erasmus Mundus scholar in Europe, voted in 2016. As a millennial, she is concerned with her future given the present political and economic situation in the Philippines.
“Whatever happens with the elections concerns them, concerns us, too. Just because we’re not physically in the Philippines does not mean that we don’t care and that we have no right to care. If anything, we care more about what happens there (Philippines) I think because we’ve seen what the world could offer (social security, better governance, etc) and we want that too for those we left behind.”
Katrina DeVelos-Harrold, an entrepreneur in Australia, has been active on Facebook. She created a page Mindorenyo Tayo, where around 3,000 members discuss national and local elections.
For many OFWs and immigrants, social media gives them a venue to share their feelings as well as support candidates for the elections. Endaya gained popularity on Facebook for his memes, explaining the political situations in a nutshell to his fellow OFWs.
“As a Filipino, regardless of where we are, it is our responsibility to discuss politics especially the coming election, to guide, or share our perspectives on choosing a leader for us,” Katrina said.
Like Justine and Endaya, Katrina is also updated to the events in the Philippines, particularly in her province in Occidental Mindoro. She laments the lack of basic services like hospitals, electricity, internet, and the soaring prices of basic commodities.
This echoes the Comelec’s observation among the OFW voters.
In the press conference on Friday, Comelec spokesperson Jimenez said: “The reason for the increase is greater interest in the electoral system and second, the perception that in 2016 the overseas vote was very relevant.”
Better Philippines to go home to
OFWs and migrants long for the Philippines. The election is also a time when they can decide whether to go back home or remain in the diaspora.
Justine is going home next year. She hopes that the voters will be able to discern the best candidates that would serve the people rather than serving their own agenda.
“It’s important that migrants also choose the leaders because the results of the election will dictate if migrants can go home or if they have to stay abroad and continue working. It is important that the officials we elect will work on the policies that will secure better social security and provide us with good governance,” she said.
Katrina plans to retire to her hometown in Mindoro, but she might reconsider if the Philippines and her hometown remain in a quagmire due to the incompetent leaders.
“It is up to them not to vote for the incompetent politicians that have been in power so long and yet have not delivered efficient basic social services. When the time comes I won’t feel guilty because I did my duty,” she said.
Endaya, now a grandfather, will continue his activism through memes. He hopes for a better Philippines to come home to and to enjoy the fruits of his hard labor abroad.
“Do not be deceived. Vote wisely,” Endaya says.