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
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.
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.