The Manila Times : Harnessing the power of OFWs in PH elections

News & Interviews
22 July 2021

By Merliza Makinano | The Manila Times

AS global mobility has increased, most democracies have allowed their citizens abroad to vote in their national elections. Every election is significant. But the 2022 presidential election is considered critical given that the elected leaders will ensure the country's recovery post-pandemic. The International Organization for Migration cites that the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the 2020 deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by 75 percent, the lowest in over three decades. In addition, more than 800,000 OFWs have also returned to the country, according to government figures.

OFW voting bloc?

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates some 10.2 million Filipinos in over 200 destination countries and territories. Of this, some 4.8 million are permanent migrants, 4.2 million are temporary migrants, and 1.2 million are irregular migrants. The 2019 Philippine Statistics Authority survey also estimated that there were 2.2 overseas Filipino workers.

The registration of voters overseas is well underway. There is an upward trend in total registrations of overseas voters. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) records show 1.42 million registered overseas voters as of May. It aims to reach 1.6 million registrants by September 30.

However, the voter turnout in the past elections has been low. In the 2013 elections, the turnout was at just 16.11 percent, or 118,823 voters. In the 2019 elections, while there were 1.8 million registered voters, the turnout was just at 18 percent, or about 330,000 voters. Based on previous elections, the top destinations with highest voter turnout remain the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States.

AS global mobility has increased, most democracies have allowed their citizens abroad to vote in their national elections. Every election is significant. But the 2022 presidential election is considered critical given that the elected leaders will ensure the country's recovery post-pandemic. The International Organization for Migration cites that the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the 2020 deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by 75 percent, the lowest in over three decades. In addition, more than 800,000 OFWs have also returned to the country, according to government figures.

OFW voting bloc?

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates some 10.2 million Filipinos in over 200 destination countries and territories. Of this, some 4.8 million are permanent migrants, 4.2 million are temporary migrants, and 1.2 million are irregular migrants. The 2019 Philippine Statistics Authority survey also estimated that there were 2.2 overseas Filipino workers.

The registration of voters overseas is well underway. There is an upward trend in total registrations of overseas voters. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) records show 1.42 million registered overseas voters as of May. It aims to reach 1.6 million registrants by September 30.

However, the voter turnout in the past elections has been low. In the 2013 elections, the turnout was at just 16.11 percent, or 118,823 voters. In the 2019 elections, while there were 1.8 million registered voters, the turnout was just at 18 percent, or about 330,000 voters. Based on previous elections, the top destinations with highest voter turnout remain the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States.

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In a news report, Comelec estimates that only 580,212 overseas Filipinos will vote in the 2022 elections given the pandemic. Various reasons may be attributed as to why there is disinterest to vote or a low turnout of overseas voters.

Yet, though the majority of the votes would come from domestic voters, it is recognized that the support of overseas voters is important in hotly contested spots. They can also influence their respective families back home as family breadwinners. Their sphere of influence can also extend to their social, religious and professional networks, as well as respective communities.

AS global mobility has increased, most democracies have allowed their citizens abroad to vote in their national elections. Every election is significant. But the 2022 presidential election is considered critical given that the elected leaders will ensure the country's recovery post-pandemic. The International Organization for Migration cites that the Covid-19 pandemic has reduced the 2020 deployment of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by 75 percent, the lowest in over three decades. In addition, more than 800,000 OFWs have also returned to the country, according to government figures.

OFW voting bloc?

The Commission on Filipinos Overseas estimates some 10.2 million Filipinos in over 200 destination countries and territories. Of this, some 4.8 million are permanent migrants, 4.2 million are temporary migrants, and 1.2 million are irregular migrants. The 2019 Philippine Statistics Authority survey also estimated that there were 2.2 overseas Filipino workers.

The registration of voters overseas is well underway. There is an upward trend in total registrations of overseas voters. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) records show 1.42 million registered overseas voters as of May. It aims to reach 1.6 million registrants by September 30.

However, the voter turnout in the past elections has been low. In the 2013 elections, the turnout was at just 16.11 percent, or 118,823 voters. In the 2019 elections, while there were 1.8 million registered voters, the turnout was just at 18 percent, or about 330,000 voters. Based on previous elections, the top destinations with highest voter turnout remain the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore and the United States.

powered by AdSparc
CFO urges all qualified Pinoys overseas to register as voters for 2022 PH elections
ADVERTISING

In a news report, Comelec estimates that only 580,212 overseas Filipinos will vote in the 2022 elections given the pandemic. Various reasons may be attributed as to why there is disinterest to vote or a low turnout of overseas voters.

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Yet, though the majority of the votes would come from domestic voters, it is recognized that the support of overseas voters is important in hotly contested spots. They can also influence their respective families back home as family breadwinners. Their sphere of influence can also extend to their social, religious and professional networks, as well as respective communities.

So how do we encourage overseas voters to participate?

Way forward

The obstacle to higher turnout is partly technical. Thus, one remedy of mail voting has been introduced. An overseas Filipino voter may send an accomplished ballot in its special envelope to the corresponding overseas post that has jurisdiction over the country of temporary residence.

Internet voting is the other frequently cited remedy. Some studies point to causal evidence that internet voting can significantly increase expatriate voter turnout.

The Comelec has signed a memorandum of agreement with tech providers to test a mobile app for overseas voting. However, while the Comelec has authorized the use of "virtual, online or electronic platforms to receive and process" overseas voting applications, or transactions, it has said that internet voting for the 2022 elections is not feasible.

This is a worthy initiative that should be explored in future elections, as this would encourage the participation of overseas Filipinos who are unable to physically vote, particularly seafarers.

Section 28 of Republic Act 10590 provides that the Comelec "may explore other more efficient, reliable and secure modes or systems, ensuring the secrecy and sanctity of the entire process, whether paper-based, electronic-based or internet-based technology or such other latest technology available, for onsite and remote registration and elections and submit reports and/or recommendations to the joint congressional oversight committee."

Another challenge is the lack of a pivotal issue that would compel them to participate in the democratic process. Overseas voters need to be invested on issues that may impact their interests and welfare.

One way to get them involved, to attract voter engagement, is to intensify the information campaign through social media. After all, their source of news and current affairs back home is predominantly through social media. The intensified information campaign should not just contain the voting process and requirements but also on why it is important for them to exercise their right to vote. That they can make a difference. That they can influence policy affecting their welfare and that of their families back home.

Much has been written about the contribution of the Filipino diaspora and OFWs to economic development. For instance, from January to April 2021, government figures show that it has reached $11 billion, 5.1 percent higher than the $10.49 billion posted last year during the same period. In 2020, remittances reached over $33 billion.

It is high time that overseas Filipinos play a role in promoting democracy and in national political development. A global network of overseas Filipinos can indeed play an important role in shaping policies not just to ensure their protection and welfare abroad but also to shape the future of their homeland.

The author holds a master's in public administration from Harvard Kennedy School.