How Overseas Filipinos can meaningfully participate in elections: Explain why you left the country

Filipino domestic workers in Hong Kong gather at a public park on their day-off.  Getty Images

By Andy Bautista

Over the past several decades, the contributions of Overseas Filipinos (OFs) have anchored the Philippine economy and fitted a financial life jacket to many families in the motherland. But why have OFs not been able to translate that economic clout into a political force for good during an election?

According to a dated December 2013 report posted on the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO) website (cfo.gov.ph), there are an estimated 10.2 million Filipinos residing or working overseas. That number could be anywhere between 11 million and 12 million by current estimates.

The monies sent by OFs contribute a steady 10 percent (much more if you factor in money sent through unofficial channels) to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. Remittances — the second-largest source of foreign reserves after exports — yielded a record high $33.5 billion in 2019 and despite the pandemic, still reached $31.5 billion in late 2021. Those based in the United States are the runaway top givers sending $12 billion (approximately 40 percent of the total remittances) in 2020.

Electoral impotence?

Every vote counts. An informed vote dictated by one’s conscience counts even more. Yet, the OF’s influence in Philippine elections is completely disproportionate to their economic contributions to the country.

The highest overseas Filipino voter turnout occurred during the 2016 elections where 31.45 percent (approximately 432,000 voters) cast their votes. However, this figure comprised less than 1 percent of the total actual voters in the elections.

For 2022, Comelec will print over 65.7 million ballots of which 1.7 million (about 2.6 percent) are allocated for OFs. But the latter may have significantly decreased because of the repatriation of over 800,000 OFWs back to the Philippines due to the pandemic. OFs enjoy a 30-day voting period running from April 10 to May 9, 2022.

OFs can however participate more than cast a ballot. Many lived through the Martial law years and can “remit” a generous lesson in the real legacy of this dark era in Philippine history. Those who marched along EDSA in February 1986 can “send” a balikbayan box filled to the brim with stories of the People Power revolution that ended a despotic and rapacious regime. Many can ship a freight of valuable wisdom, based on grounded historical perspective and true understanding of the political events that shaped the collective life of our people. Amidst the incessant social media disinformation campaign, OFs can play a crucial role in disseminating true and accurate information that can influence the 99 percent of the citizenry whose votes will decide the fate of our nation.

The author. Technology and truth-telling, two ways OFs can play a role in the elections.

Action plan

The OFs can intensify their participation in the 2022 elections using technology. For example, they can make a “Zoomitment” to host regular zoom meetings with relatives, friends, schoolmates, former workmates, etc.  who are voters in the Philippines that are still undecided or still persuadable. They should identify people whom they have provided assistance to (e.g., sent a balikbayan box to) as they would be more susceptible to listen to them.

1. During the zoom, listen intently to these voters and learn about the problems they are facing and their concerns for the future.

2. Emphasize the importance of electing the right leaders for our country. Explain the conditions why you left the country to explore greener pastures abroad.

3. Help them understand that leaders with a proven track record present the best chance of addressing the country’s challenges and future aspirations.

4. Try to get them to help spread the gospel of good governance and convince at least two more individuals in the Philippines.

These zoom meetings may be the best way to harness the tremendous influence of OFs that will help turn the tide in the 2022 elections.

OFs all over the world should be applauded for their contributions. But they can contribute more than their hard-earned dollars, they can transfer the stronger currency of truth-telling and combat the infodemic of fake news.

George Orwell said “In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

OFs can be peaceful revolutionaries whose unstinting remittances in truth will steer our nation to an enlightened vote in May 2022.

Andy Bautista was chairman of the Commission on Elections from 2015 to 2017. Before that, he was appointed chairman of the Presidential Commission on Good Government. After graduating with a LL.M. degree from Harvard Law School, Andy worked with prominent international  law firms in Atlanta and New York.  He was admitted to the New York bar in 1995.  He lived in New Jersey and worked in New York City for several years before relocating to Hong Kong.

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(C) The FilAm 2022



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