Dubai: Rosa Agascon-Lopez, 53, and Maria Fe Pagaragan, 42, reached the Philippine Consulate General (PCG) in Dubai before sunrise on Sunday, April 10, and they were joined by hundreds of Filipinos who came early eager to cast their votes on Day 1 of the month-long Philippine Overseas Voting (OV).
By midday, a long double-file queue of registered Filipino voters – stretching as far as 500 metres – were waiting their turn to get inside the Consulate headquarters in Al Qusais 3. The hot weather, hovering around 39 degrees, was no match for their warm enthusiasm to exercise their right to vote for the next Philippine president, vice-president, 12 senators and partylist representative.
Lopez and Pagaragan said it was still dark when they left their respective homes in Jumeirah. They were the first to vote when the polls opened at past 8am. The voting process was smooth and orderly, they said.
The actual national elections in the Philippines is on May 9 but overseas Filipinos were given one month to cast their ballot, starting April 10. There are about 1.7 million registered Filipino overseas voters all over the world and Dubai PCG has the most number of registered overseas voters, with a total of 191,779 voters. The Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi has 117,840 Filipino expatriates eligible to vote.
Lopez, who is from Valencia, Bukidnon in southern Philippines, and Pagaragan, from Isabela in northern Philippines, have been working as household service workers in Dubai for 12 and six years respectively. They told Gulf News their eagerness to exercise their right to suffrage as overseas Filipinos came from their dispositon as mothers.
Years of living away from their families have opened their eyes to the grim reality that many Filipinos still opt to go work abroad because of insufficient viable employment back home.
“We came from peasant families and we had to work abroad to provide for our families. As mothers, we voted for the future of our children and the next generation. We voted for leaders who we deemed can create sweeping and long-lasting reforms in our country,” the duo said.
They said they chose candidates who had proven track record and shown strong platform for the benefit of overseas Filipinos, the agricultural sector in the Philippines, as well as the education and welfare of the youth.
Who are running for the elections?
Ten candidates are vying to become the next Philippine president for the next six years. Among the candidates are opposition stalwart Leni Robredo, who is also the current vice president of the Philippines and the only woman among the presidential candidates; boxing icon and incumbent senator Manny Pacquiao; Manila (capital city of the Philippines) mayor Isko Moreno; incumbent senator Panfilo Lacson; former undersecretary of Foreign Affairs and presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella; labour leader Leody de Guzman; former secretary of National Defense Norberto Gonzales; businessman Faisal Mangondato; lawyer/ doctor Jose Montemayor; and former senator Bongbong Marcos, whose father (former president Ferdinand Marcos, Sr.) was ousted by a popular people uprising back in 1986.
Swing vote and migrants’ agenda
Bryan Cabugsa, poll watcher for progressive partylist group Bayan Muna, told Gulf News overseas Filipinos can very much influence the outcome of the Philippine national elections. “They have the numbers, and because they are considered as family breadwinners, they can also influence the votes of their family members back home,” he explained.
He added: “That is why it is really important for us overseas Filipino to go out and vote. We need leaders who will protect and promote our rights and welfare. We need to choose candidates who have proven good track record and not involved in any anomaly or corruption.”
Cabugsa also enumerated concrete programmes the next set of leaders should act on, including increased budget for distressed migrant workers and more assistance for health and legal matters.
“There should also be a crackdown on illegal recruitment and human trafficking. More importantly, there should be a clear programme focused on ensuring the availability of jobs in the Philippines,” he added.
Essence of democracy
Conrado Quizon, poll watcher for Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, said he was inspired by the strong turnout of voters this year as compared to previous elections. “Overseas Filipinos are now more keen to participate in our electoral process”, he added.
PR professional and Filipino community leader Art Los Banos called this “the true essence of democracy”. He added: “I was surprised to see hundreds of people queuing. This goes to show that they would really like to be heard through their ballots. This is ‘people power’ in action. Whoever wins the presidency should therefore be supported. The sovereign voice of the Filipinos should be upheld.”
Meanwhile, Consulate officials are confident of high turnout of voters this year. Back in 2010, 12 per cent or 3,693 out of 30,679 registered voters cast their vote. The number of voters grew tenfold in 2016, where 37,950 or 31 per cent of the 122,953 registered Filipinos went to the polls in Dubai.
Filipino Overseas Voting schedule (No appointments needed)
Philippine Consulate Dubai
April 10 to May 8 - 8am to 9pm daily
May 9 - 8am to 3pm
PCG Dubai has 10 clustered precincts at the Consulate and Polo-Owwa. Field voting venues will be announced later
Philippine Embassy Abu Dhabi
April 10 - 8am to 4pm
April 11 to May 8 - 7.30am to 3.30pm
May 9 - 7am to 3pm
What to do before going to the polls
• Check if included in the certified list of voters (CLOV) at Philippine missions websites
• Prepare Emirates ID or passport or any valid IDs for identification purposes
• Voting reminders from Philippine Consulate Dubai
• Do not vote more than once
• Do not vote in substitution for another
• Do not vote if not a registered voter
• Do not take photos or make a copy by any means of the ballots and voter’s receipts
• Do not speak with anyone while accomplishing the ballot
• Do not tear, erase, or put any distinguishing mark on the ballot
• Do not exhibit the content of the ballot to any person
• Do not bring the ballot outside the designated polling place
• Do not spread false and alarming reports or information regarding the elections
• Do not destroy, substitute or take away any election form, document or ballot box
• Do not crowd or engage in disorderly behaviour in the designated polling place
• Do not solicit votes or undertake any propaganda within the polling place and with radius of 30 metres