x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Filipinos in Emirates encouraged to vote

Migrant rights group is encouraging Filipinos to register to vote.

ABU DHABI // A migrant rights group with more than 100 members in the UAE is actively supporting the congressional bid of Migrante Sectoral Party in the Philippines’ midterm elections next year.

The UAE chapter of Migrante has begun distributing flyers to encourage residents to sign up as voters and inform them about the party’s platform of government, said Nhel Morona, the group’s country co-ordinator.

Overseas absentee voters worldwide have until October 31 to register at their embassy or consulate.

They are given one month to cast their votes for 12 senators and one party-list representative beginning on April 13, while those in the Philippines will vote on May 13, election day.

“We plan to invite Filipinos in the six emirates to join as volunteers who can help spread the word,” he said. “But they don’t have to become members of our group.”

Migrante Sectoral Party is among the 289 groups who sought accreditation from the Philippines’ Commission on Elections (Comelec) so they could take another shot in congress.

A party list group should represent the marginalised and under-represented sectors. The law allows them to have seats in congress as party list representatives.

“We got the Comelec’s second division nod which allows us to run in the elections,” said Connie Bragas-Regalado, 59, the president of Migrante Sectoral Party, from Manila.

“This shows that Comelec recognises Migrante’s services for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). We see this as an initial victory after so many years of fighting for their rights all over the world.”

However, Ms Bragas-Regalado said they still had to wait until next week for the final approval, when Comelec releases a full roster of accredited party list groups.

In 2003, Migrante Sectoral Party, through Migrante International, was organised as a party list group to educate Filipinos on the situation of OFWs, push for their rights and welfare and bring their issues at a national level.

“We want to ensure that government services overseas are readily accessible and available to them,” said Ms Bragas-Regalado, a social worker who had previously worked as a housemaid in Hong Kong for 13 years and in Singapore for two years.

“We also want to push for the scrapping of excessive government fees that add to the burden of migrants.”

The party did not win a seat at its first attempt in the 2004 elections, when OFWs were granted voting rights for the first time.

When they tried to run again in 2010, Comelec barred them from participating in the elections for failing to get at least two per cent of the votes cast in two successive elections.

Migrante protested the move, saying they had participated in the 2004 elections and not in the 2007 midterm elections.

“With or without the elections, Migrante will be there for OFWs’ rights and welfare,” said John Leonard Monterona, the regional co-ordinator for Migrante Middle East who is based in Qatar.

“We will continue to handle cases of distressed and abused OFWs.”

But Ms Bragas-Regalado said the Philippine government should provide better employment opportunities for its citizens so they do not need to go abroad to work and that migration becomes a choice rather than a necessity.

“Our government should generate more domestic jobs,” she said. “Our country’s labour export programme is not the answer to poverty.”