ABU DHABI //With fewer than 50 days before the deadline, Filipino expatriates are being encouraged to register now for their country's midterm elections next year.
"The civic duties of a Filipino citizen are to pay taxes and vote," said Norman Padalhin, the vice consul at the Philippine Embassy. "Since Filipinos working overseas are exempt from paying taxes, they should exercise their right to vote."
On Tuesday, 137 employees from six hotels gathered at the Sheraton Abu Dhabi Hotel and Resort for financial literacy training. Thirty-seven later registered as overseas absentee voters to beat the October 31 deadline set by the Commission on Elections in Manila.
"This will be my first time to register for any Philippine election," said Maria Aiza Agustin, 26, a reservations supervisor at The Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa, who arrived in the capital in September last year. "I was too busy to register and vote back home."
Prospective voters must register in person because biometric data, including facial features and fingerprints, and signatures need to be digitally recorded. Residents must also bring a copy of their passports or Emirates ID.
Filipinos who will be 18 or older on May 13 next year can register. Citizens who have already registered and voted in the past two elections do not need to re-register.
At least two employees from Le Royal Meridien hotel said they had previously registered as overseas absentee voters but failed to vote in the 2007 and 2010 elections. They were asked to register again.
"I've been very busy," said Joseph Patrick Utanes, 42, a leisure co-ordinator who had registered in Oman. "I'll try to vote in next year's elections."
His colleague, Marjo Saldua, 44, a hotel nurse, said she and her husband were able to register. But neither found time to vote because they were "too busy" with their jobs.
Overseas absentee voters worldwide are given one month to cast their votes beginning on April 13, while those in the Philippines will vote on May 13, election day.
Cindy Relucio, 31, the chairwoman of Migrante's Abu Dhabi chapter, said the group had been coordinating with the embassy to ensure that more Filipinos were able to register on their day off.
Last month 35 Filipino workers at Saadiyat Island signed up as part of the embassy's mobile registration initiative. A session at Industrial City of Abu Dhabi is scheduled for next month.
Next year's midterm elections will be the fourth since overseas Filipinos were first granted voting rights in 2004.
"We're trying to reach out to Filipino community organisations as well as companies that employ a large number of Filipinos," said Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, who announced plans to visit Al Ain and Ruwais in the coming weeks.
"But the big challenge is for Filipinos to come out and vote in next year's elections."
Since overseas absentee voter registration began on November 2 last year, more than 3,000 have signed up in Abu Dhabi for next year's elections.
In total, 17,041 voters in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain and 30,679 voters in Dubai and the Northern Emirates had previously registered for the 2010 presidential elections. However, only 7,917 voted.