It is still a long haul to May 9, 2016 when the nation goes to the voting precincts but early indicators show that the Presidential elections could be decided by Filipinos living and working outside the country, the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW).
With over 1.3 million OFWs registered to vote in 2016 and almost a million more who failed to register but are actively aware of the political developments back home, even the Department of Foreign Affairs’ Office of Civilian Security and Consular Concerns says that the OFWs have become “a definite game changer for Philippine politics.”
In a statement issued last year, the DFA through Undersecretary Rafael E. Seguis said that a total 1,301,598 overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) became registered voters as of October 15, 2015.
A Philippine Daily Inquirer report quoted Seguis as saying that if 1.3 million overseas voters could influence at least three family members, their sector could bring about 5.2 million votes to their preferred candidates.
“Since overseas Filipinos are considered to be their family’s bread winners, it is not a stretch to surmise that each overseas Filipino can influence the vote of at least three family members. Thus, the 1.3 million active registered overseas voters are roughly equivalent to 5.2 million votes. This is a definite game changer for Philippine politics,” Seguis said.
Of the 1.3 million OFWs registered to vote in 2016, over 550,000 are based in the Middle East and Africa, 250,000 in the United States of America and Canada, 150,000 in Europe and 320,000 in Asia and the Pacific.
There are 30,000 seafarers who also registered for the 2016 elections.
In a spectacle never before seen in the history of Philippine politics, almost 80% to 90% of the OFWs have indicated their support for Presidential frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte, a preference which is expected to cascade to his vice presidential running mate Alan Peter Cayetano.
The support by the OFWs and Filipino expatriates for Duterte is so great that the social media, which they use to communicate with their families back home, have virtually become a playground of Duterte and increasingly lately, Cayetano.
Just what it is that endears Duterte to the OFWs?
The attachment of the Filipino foreign workers to Duterte did not start yesterday.
It goes way back to an act which almost cost Duterte his position as Mayor of Davao City and this was in the thick of the diplomatic row between the Philippines and Singapore following the execution of domestic helper Flor Contemplacion.
Angered by what he felt was the arrogance of Singapore by ignoring the last minute appeal of then President Fidel V. Ramos for a review of the Contemplacion case, Duterte burned the flag of Singapore in front of the Davao City Hall.
Aware of its diplomatic implications, Ramos dispatched then DILG Secretary Rafael Alunan to Davao City with a prepared public apology addressed to the Singaporean government for Duterte to sign.
“I told Sec. Alunan, I would rather resign as Mayor of Davao than apologise,” Duterte recalled of that encounter with Alunan, who has remained a friend to the mayor even after that incident.
Beyond that incident which happened two decades ago, Duterte is viewed by OFWs now as their real hope to protect their children from drugs and crime.
The OFWs also embrace Duterte’s proposal to spread the economic activities and government funded development projects to the countryside because they know this would create jobs.
“Sana makauwi na kami at dyan na lang magtrabaho kung magiging Presidente si Duterte,” is the common statement posted by OFWs who now work in foreign lands.
Away from their families for years and concerned for the safety of their loved ones and children back home, the OFWs and expatriates see Duterte as the only presidential candidate who addresses their fears.
Duterte’s reaction and public statements on the controversy over the opening of the Balikbayan boxes by the Bureau of Customs and the “Tanim-Bala” scam in the international airport victimizing mostly OFWs also earned the admiration, if not adulation, of the OFWs, seamen and expatriates.
The OFWs now see the Duterte Presidency as their last hope for a safer country where they would be able to find jobs and stay in the comfort of their homes and enjoy the warm embrace of their loved ones.
No other Presidential candidate now has established that “connect” with the OFWs which could possibly sway to him or her the support of the country’s Modern Day Heroes.
This would be a huge problem for the other Presidential candidates because not even vote buying would work since the OFWs have jobs which give them comfortable wages.
More than that, they know that selling their votes would mean selling the future of their children.