Filipino ex­pat vot­ers have lit­tle faith

As Filipinos pre­pare to vote in Mon­day’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, James Gabrillo talks to some jaded ex­pats, try­ing to find some hon­esty amid cor­rup­tion scan­dals

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It was just days be­fore the Philip­pine pres­i­den­tial elec­tions when Ara­bella Dio­genes ad­mit­ted she was sud­denly un­sure of her candidate of choice.

“I’m get­ting ner­vous about Digong,” said Dio­genes, a 32-yearold nurse based in London, Eng­land.

Digong is elec­tion fron­trun­ner Ro­drigo Duterte, 71. A mayor of the south­ern city Davao, Duterte has out­paced his rivals in the formerly tight race, gar­ner­ing a 33 per cent rat­ing in a na­tional sur­vey, 11 points ahead of Grace Poe in sec­ond place.

Last week, se­na­tor Antonio Tril­lanes, an in­de­pen­dent candidate for vice pres­i­dent, dropped a bomb­shell that shook the elec­torate. He ac­cused Duterte of hid­ing 227 mil­lion pe­sos (Dh17.8m) in a se­cret bank ac­count in Manila. The claim has yet to be proven, but Tril­lanes claimed there were 16 other se­cret ac­counts that had trans­ac­tions amount­ing to 2.4 bil­lion pe­sos over a pe­riod of nine years.

Duterte has de­nied the charges and said he would dis­close his bank records from the last 20 years if his rivals did so first.

“Duterte said he was a poor man. That’s why we love him – he’s one of us – and he prom­ises to help,” said Dio­genes. “Now I don’t know any­more.”

Dio­genes said she was think­ing of switch­ing her vote to Poe, who re­turned to Manila from the United States af­ter the death of her fa­ther, Fer­nando Poe Jr, months af­ter be­ing de­feated in a tight and con­tro­ver­sial pres­i­den­tial elec­tion in 2004. Poe, seek­ing po­lit­i­cal re­venge, ran for the Philip­pine sen­ate in 2013 and re­ceived the high­est num­ber of votes of all 33 can­di­dates.

“Grace has been the most im­pres­sive in the de­bates,” said Regi­nald Laga­mayo, a 26-yearold en­gi­neer in Abu Dhabi. “She’s the only one, aside from Mar Roxas, who has been clear about her plans for the coun­try – from hu­man rights is­sues to tax re­form.” Laga­mayo is one of about 200,000 Filipino ex­pa­tri­ates el­i­gi­ble to vote in the UAE. Vot­ing at the Abu Dhabi em­bassy and Dubai con­sulate opened on April 9 and closes at 1pm on May 9, the day of the elec­tion.

Roxas, the Whar­ton-ed­u­cated in­te­rior min­is­ter and grand­son of an ex-pres­i­dent, is the ad­min­is­tra­tion-en­dorsed candidate currently polling in third place.

“We’re pray­ing hard for him, very hard,” said Myrna Man­i­cad, a 40-year-old nanny in Mu­nich, Ger­many. “Mar will con­tinue the straight path that Noynoy [cur­rent pres­i­dent Benigno Aquino] has forged.”

On the other hand, ac­cu­sa­tions of cor­rup­tion have plagued the bid of Je­jo­mar Bi­nay, the coun­try’s vice pres­i­dent who pre­vi­ously topped the polls un­til the emer­gence of al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. His po­lit­i­cal ca­reer started in 1986 and he currently ranks fourth in the sur­veys. Bi­nay de­nies any al­le­ga­tion of wrong­do­ing.

“What a hyp­ocrite – I just saw him talk­ing on TV about bat­tling cor­rup­tion,” said Man­i­cad. “I hon­estly don’t know any­one who still be­lieves him. I’ve ac­tu­ally deleted friends on Face­book who sup­port him.”

Ovic Reyes, a 30-year-old of­fice as­sis­tant in Riyadh, Saudi Ara­bia, said she was still un­de­cided days be­fore cast­ing her vote. “I’m choos­ing be­tween Roxas and Duterte. And maybe Poe, too,” she said. “But not Bi­nay. Never Bi­nay. Wasn’t he the for­mer pres­i­den­tial ad­viser on OFWs [over­seas Filipino work­ers]? He has done noth­ing good.”

There are up to 10 mil­lion Filipinos – about a tenth of the Philip­pine pop­u­la­tion – liv­ing abroad. Re­mit­tances from over­seas Filipino work­ers rep­re­sent about 8.5 per cent of the coun­try’s GNP.

“We need a pres­i­dent who will bring jobs to the coun­try, so we all can go home and no longer be away from our fam­i­lies,” said Reyes, who has two chil­dren. “We need some­one who can fight for the rights of OFWs, es­pe­cially us women.”

Mean­while, in­side a cof­fee shop in Bos­ton, Mas­sachusetts, Mario Men­doza said he was frus­trated with the lack of vi­able can­di­dates.

“Poe has no ex­pe­ri­ence, Roxas is em­bar­rass­ingly out of touch, Duterte is just scary, while Bi­nay should really be in jail,” said Men­doza, a 23-year-old stu­dent vot­ing in his first elec­tion. “That leaves me with Miriam San­ti­ago, who’s crazy but com­pe­tent.”

San­ti­ago, a 70-year-old vet­eran se­na­tor who nearly won the pres­i­dency in 1992, lags in sur­veys, polling at just 2 per cent. While she is highly re­garded in the coun­try, vot­ers have ex­pressed con­cerns about her poor health – and choice of run­ning mate: Bong­bong Mar­cos, son of for­mer dic­ta­tor Fer­di­nand Mar­cos who ruled the Philip­pines with an iron fist for two decades.

“I’m ex­cited to see how it turns out,” said Men­doza. “But I’m glad I’m not there to watch this cir­cus go down.”

James Gabrillo is a for­mer arts ed­i­tor at The Na­tional. He is a PhD candidate at the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge studying cul­tural spec­ta­cles in the Philip­pines.

Erik De Cas­tro / Reuters

Philip­pines pres­i­den­tial candidate Ro­drigo “Digong” Duterte on the cam­paign trail in Mal­abon, Metro Manila. He has been ac­cused of hid­ing mil­lions of pe­sos in se­cret bank ac­counts.

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