The 2016 Philippine Election: Some Thoughts from Filipinos Abroad

Filipinos cast their vote for the national elections at the Philippine consulate in Dubai on April 9, 2016. (Image Credit: Zarina Fernandez/ Caption credit: Gulf News)

I am going to be honest. One of the reasons why we moved to Australia was the frustration over the Philippines’ political circus – that there were no significant positive changes no matter who was elected as president. When the current administration was elected, and the “wang wang policy” was announced (among other pronouncements and promises) – I remember posting on Facebook this status: “Ramdam ko ang bagong pag-asa at pagbabago ng Pilipinas.” However, that glimmer of hope slowly faded. Sure, there were claims of economic growth, but that growth did not even trickle to the bottom of the populace.


I was clamoring for the kind of change that could be felt by the common Juan, something that would uplift the standard of living of all Filipinos, not just the privileged few. I was dreaming of a country where every one of its citizen could eat without worrying about where the next meal would come from (or if it would ever come at all). I was longing for the day when I could hop on a public transport and actually enjoy the ride, and not have to worry about pickpockets or the thick smog in the air. They did not have to be changes that were noticeable to the whole world, but rather changes that could be felt, seen and enjoyed – something tangible, such as equality of treatment among Filipinos from all walks of life or as simple as actually using the pedestrian crossing safely because you know that manong traffic enforcer will ensure that no vehicle stops on it to block your way.  We just could no longer depend on the government that was supposed to serve its citizenry. It had become every Filipino’s burden to look after himself; the government just became unreliable – unable to manage the welfare of its people. Worst of all, most of the country’s elected leaders were blatantly stealing people’s money. They still are. Running for a government position has become a business of sort – a way of pocketing commissions, calamity funds, and running other money-making schemes. It seems that most of the politicians’ motto is to “rob the poor to feed the rich.”


Thank God for Filipinos who work or live overseas and sacrifice being away from their loved ones (some of them taking risks working in dangerous situations or countries). With an estimate of 2.2 million OFWs working at any given time in various global locations, there is no doubt that their remittances make up a huge bulk of the country’s economy. Even when they become residents or citizens of other countries, they still provide a steady stream of financial support for families left behind in the Philippines, often paying for a family member’s education. They may be physically far from their home country, but they certainly are not oblivious to its current situation. Sheryl from Canada says that “I am still a Filipino and I care what happens to the Philippines because I have family there.” In the same line, John from Perth says that “my Australian citizenship does not stop me from caring for my birth country.”


Anthony, who lived in Brooke’s Point as a child, and worked in Dubai for 16 years as an architect, sees no point in registering to vote this year “because of my lack of confidence and trust in the government.” He adds though that, “there’s no point blaming the government but not participating in the elections.” I reasoned with him that surely he has the right to complain because he has contributed to the country’s economy through his remittances as an OFW until 2013, when he returned to the Philippines to work for a prestigious chain of malls.    “Technically, only those who are voting can play the blame game for they may be choosing the wrong candidate. I, who will not vote, can only hope for the best outcome.” For him, Miriam Defensor-Santiago would be the right president, “however, she has everything except health.”


Anthony’s sentiments are echoed by Paulette, living with her family in Japan for 10 years now. She still calls Philippines her beloved and has invested a palatial house in Bulacan, but has lost all hope that Philippines will ever be under better governance. “Lahat puro pangako at pabida. I have not voted for 20 or so years because I just don’t believe in any of the candidates.” She goes on to compare the campaign period in Japan versus that of the Philippines. “Simple lang. Ang mga poster may designated area lang at kaya ng kandidato mangampanya ng mag-isa by addressing the crowd for a few hours, then that’s it. Natatapos sa murang kampanya. Hindi kagaya sa Pilipinas, masyadong magastos – utang ng funding kung kani-kanino, kaya pag nanalo at naupo sa pwesto, babawi sa gastos o nakompromiso. End result? Corruption.” She stresses her next words, “ It’s a vicious cycle.”


Paulette is correct, it is indeed a vicious cycle. It is precisely that system that pushed us to pack our bags and move to another country – not to denounce our Filipino roots, but to simply enjoy living, to experience first-hand where our taxes go. Whatever corruption is happening here, it’s nipped in the bud and quickly exposed. Politicians still have shame, and the people have a voice.


Pam is a nurse who lives in Canada with her family after living in Abu Dhabi for 18 years. Unlike others, who shy away from actively joining the election bandwagon in the Philippines, Pam is passionately campaigning for his favorite presidential and VP candidates through social media. Pam was the first one who positively commented on my status mentioned at the beginning of this article. She had high hopes for the Philippines, and still does. She believes that the country can get back on track by electing the right leaders. She would have registered to vote had there been a Philippine embassy in the province of Alberta. And yes, Duterte is her president. She says, “All the while, I thought I root for him out of desperation seeing how bad the current situation of the Philippines is; but now I personally believe he’s the only one qualified among all the candidates.” She likes Duterte’s leadership style. In her words, “He knows how to negotiate and listens and able to maintain his entrepreneurial and autocratic leadership. He has the ability to accomplish things. He is not a TRAPO, and his list of achievements is long.” Pam hopes to retire in the Philippines someday, “but only if Manila becomes livable again like Davao”.


Anneline, who has also been living in Canada for 4 years, thinks that the Philippines needs a leader with an iron fist. Needless to say, she sees that in Duterte. His style may be too unsophisticated for many, but she says she’d rather have that kind of leader than someone who is a lame duck and corrupt. She believes that “with him, Philippines has a better fighting chance”.


Joy, a nurse who has been living in the US for more than 18 years now, believes that people should elect someone from the same ticket as the current administration. She roots for the Roxas-Robredo tandem. “I am pretty much satisfied with how PNoy has been fighting corruption, and I am worried that if an opposition is elected, what has been started by his administration will not be continued for the simple reason that kalaban sila ni PNoy,” she says. She adds that, “Kahit sino naman ang maupo sa pwesto, hindi naman nakukuntento ang mga tao, but he definitely did better than his predecessor.”


Filipinos can be found in almost all parts of the world. We are a strong-willed and determined bunch – able to live in the harshest and loneliest conditions just to provide for our families. We hardly complain, not because we are pushovers, but because we believe that we can. The question is, can we? Can we break this cycle of graft and corruption so ferocious that it is driving many Filipinos away from their home country? Personally, I think it would take a miracle from heaven for that to be possible. We can only count a handful of politicians who truly have servant hearts and who prioritize public service. It does make you wonder, why a candidate almost always exhausts all his or her allowable number of terms to run for the same position again and again. And when he or she is no longer legally able to do it, a family member takes up the role. Hence, the political dynasty. Well and good, if it is well-intended. However, we all know that more often than not, this happens to protect vested interests.


A common dream for most Pinoys overseas is to be able to retire in the Philippines. Hayahay na buhay, as it is often said – surrounded by family and lifelong friends. Filipinos go overseas not to escape, but to invest for the Philippines’ future: our children who may return to their mother land someday and bring with them new hope for a better Philippines.


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