Dozens of voters and poll-watchers gathered at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi yesterday to witness officials count ballots cast over the last month in the country's national elections. After polls closed at 3pm, Adelio Cruz, the consul general at the embassy, estimated the counting would take at least 18 hours and end by 9am today.
The votes will then be consolidated with those cast at the Consulate General in Dubai, with Mr Cruz delivering the results to Manila by tomorrow. More than 4,000 Filipinos in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain cast their ballots during a month of overseas absentee voting that ended yesterday. Of the 17,041 Filipinos who registered at the Embassy, 4,224 had cast their votes, representing a 25 per cent voter turnout.
As of Sunday, 3,357 had cast their ballots in Dubai, according to officials in Manila. Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said before the start of the counting of votes: "We did well but we can do better than this and even surpass the voter turnout in the next elections. "Our challenge now is how we can translate the registered voters into votes. What's the use of the registration if we don't go out and vote?"
Ms Princesa said she would push for an early registration from the Commission on Elections in Manila for the 2013 elections, and request Filipino community leaders in the Emirates to urge Filipinos to register and vote. Yesterday, Manila's foreign affairs department extended overseas absentee voting until 3pm local time to allow more Filipinos to cast their ballots. Those who waited until the last day were eager to have a say in who would govern their country for the next six years. Florencio Cruz, 58, a carpenter in Abu Dhabi who voted in the 2004 national elections, was upset to learn that his name was not on the voters' list.
"I would have voted for Benigno Aquino III," he said. "My family in the Philippines will vote for him today because we believe that he should continue the legacy of his parents." His father, Benigno Aquino Jr, was killed while opposing a dictatorship and his late mother, the former president Corazon Aquino, led a "people power" revolt that restored democracy and swept her into power. Nelly Palabrica, 50, a salon worker in the capital, supported Manny Villar, a senator and head of the Nacionalista Party.
"He [helped send] home many mistreated overseas Filipino workers from the Middle East," Ms Palabrica said. Other than a last-minute rush of voters yesterday, officials said a steady stream of expatriates had turned up at the embassy to cast their ballots. Aldwin Guadiana, 28, a fashion designer in Abu Dhabi, took time off yesterday from work to make sure one more ballot was cast for Gilbert Teodoro, the former secretary of national defence.
"He may be the candidate of the current administration, which is tainted with corruption, but I think he is going to be a better president," Mr Guadiana said. "He is intelligent and mentally fit and deserves my vote." Members of the Jesus is Lord (JIL) church were present to show support for their founder and spiritual adviser, Eduardo Villanueva, who is popularly known as Brother Eddie. Mr Villanueva first ran for the 2004 presidential race.
"Brother Eddie of the Bangon Pilipinas Party is the only presidential candidate we trust," said Marilyn Frivaldo, 40, a secretary in Abu Dhabi and a member of the Jesus is Lord church. @Email:email@example.com