x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UAE Filipinos leave it late to vote in the polls

Filipino expatriates rush to ballot boxes all over the country for the elections, with some nearly missing the polls by minutes.

Cpt Douglas A Gamonez, a marine/quality assurance superintendent with Pearl Ships LLC, prepares to cast his ballot as an absentee voter at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Silvia Razgova / The National
Cpt Douglas A Gamonez, a marine/quality assurance superintendent with Pearl Ships LLC, prepares to cast his ballot as an absentee voter at the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Silvia Razgova / The National

ABU DHABI // The Philippine Embassy was faced with a last-minute rush yesterday of people who wanted to cast their votes for the midterm election.

Of the 21,645 Filipinos who had registered, 3,343 voted. Those votes will be consolidated with those cast at the Dubai consulate. Officials said 3,545 of the 55,842 registered voters from Dubai and the Northern Emirates had voted.

The number of registered voters excludes the 8,298 in Abu Dhabi and 12,421 in Dubai who were removed from the voters' list for failure to vote in two successive elections, in 2007 and 2010. In March, the Commission on Elections came up with a resolution that allowed overseas voters to take part in this year's polls.

"I'm happy that they were able to exercise their right to vote," said Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE.

"But really, I wish that more were able to vote. For the 2016 elections, I expect all to register and vote so that those who are elected can make reintegration easier for overseas Filipinos."

Virgilio Ramos, 52, a quality-control technician, nearly missed his chance to vote, having arrived at the polling area three minutes after 3pm.

Anyone inside the 50-metre radius after the closing time will still be allowed to vote, according to the Commission on Elections rules.

"Someone just told me I could cast my vote until 5pm," he said.

Julian Leopoldo Jr, 37, a helicopter mechanic, arrived a few minutes before 3pm. "I've been very busy and had no time to visit the embassy," he said. "It's my first time to vote and I just wanted to vote for my favourite senators."

A steady stream of voters had turned up during the first four hours after polls opened at the embassy at 8am.

Ellen Florendo, 32, an office assistant at a consultancy firm in Taweelah, was the first to vote. "I got very busy after I came back from the Philippines two weeks ago," she said. "It took me a few minutes to fill out the ballot. I only voted for one senator and one party list."

There are 33 senatorial candidates and 136 party-list groups. Voters choose 12 senators and one party-list group, which represents certain sectors.

The embassy held field voting at St Joseph's Cathedral from 5pm to 9pm on Sunday.

Albon Likigan, 26, an emergency medical technician at the National Ambulance Company, said his job prevented him from voting early.

"My job requires me to work for three straight weeks on the site," he said. "I'm off this week and took the chance to vote. I know it will make a difference. Every vote counts."

A female taxi driver who works a 16-hour shift took a few hours off yesterday to head to the polls.

"I like our president, Benigno Aquino, and what he has done for our country," said Josephine Esquivel, 40. "I had voted for all the senatorial candidates who completely support him and his anti-corruption drive."

The poll is the fourth that expatriates have been allowed to take part in since they were granted voting rights in 2004.

"I initially wanted to stay home but later decided to go out and vote," said Eugene Almajano, 41, a manager at an electronics shop, after feeding his ballot into a machine. "Voting was a breeze and I know that my vote will be counted."

Automated voting was held for the first time in the UAE. Precinct Count Optical Scan machines were first used in the May 2010 national elections in the Philippines and in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Rachel Mauricio, 28, a housemaid for a Jordanian family in Abu Dhabi, was excited to try out the new machine to vote. However, her name was not on the voters list.

"Do we really need to register here?" she said. "I've been voting in my hometown for so many years. I missed my chance to vote for my favourite senators."

Another voter left the polling area disappointed. A poll official said she should have requested a transfer of her voter-registration record to Abu Dhabi to be allowed to vote under the election rules.

"They said I'm registered in Dubai," she said. "Do they expect me to travel all the way to the consulate in Dubai to vote?"

Members of the Jesus is Lord church served as poll watchers and showed support for their founder and spiritual adviser, Eduardo Villanueva, who is popularly known as Brother Eddie.

The twice-defeated presidential contender in the 2004 and 2010 elections is now trying to earn a place as part of the Bangon Pilipinas Party.

Election results are expected to be announced today.