RIYADH: Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr.
Published — Wednesday 24 April 2013
Last update 24 April 2013 4:30 am
The enthusiasm that was widespread among the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) some 10 years ago to participate in the election of public officials seems to have dwindled with the passage of time. At the forefront then were the Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) conveners, who encouraged and coordinated with the compatriots for timely and convenient voting.
The clamor for voting rights had made the Philippine government send a delegation to hold talks with OFWs in the Kingdom. The delegation had included then Rep. Augusto Syjuco, and Senators Franklin Drilon, Edgardo Angara, Panfilo Lacson and Tito Sotto. The OFWs’ wish to vote was subsequently granted.
A decade on, any such clamor has disappear, and any enthusiasm noticeable at the time among Filipinos working in Saudi Arabia has shrunk considerably.
Even the OAV conveners are nowhere to be seen. They should be among those drawing fellow OFWs to the embassy for vote to avoid the last-minute rush on May 13, the last day of OAV voting in the Kingdom and other countries.
Lamenting the situation, Alex Bello, section head at an electrical company’s purchasing department and one of the original OAV conveners, told Arab News that he cannot force them to come to vote.
“I am still an advocate of the Filipinos' right to suffrage, but I can only urge my compatriots to exercise their right to vote. Forcing them is another thing,” he said. Among the original OAV conveners included Rashid Fabricante, Ellen Sana, Jun Aguilar, Mike Bolos, Isagani Manalo and Joey Badong.
A visit to the embassy during voting hours last Sunday showed that except for the volunteers, those who stood smiling from ear to ear, and who enthusiastically manned the polls, there was hardly any voter.
A random survey among OFWs showed that they have at least three main reasons why they have not yet gone to the polls, work pressure being one of them. The other excuse they cite for not going to vote included pressing petty problems at home, and their views about their government back in Philippines not doing enough for the poor.
“We want to vote, of course. But there’s just much work that we can’t go to the embassy during office hours. When we get out of the office in the afternoon, the embassy is already closed,” said Eric P. Asi who works as a senior engineer for an electrical company and that there is plenty of time left.
“I and my better half can vote in a few minutes once we go to the embassy to vote during the weekend,” he said.
Another OFW working for an electrical company said that many Filipinos in the Kingdom’s capital have family problems taking care of which they consider more important than going to the embassy to cast their votes.
“Such problems include lack of money to pay for all financial obligations either in the Kingdom or in the Philippines. This inevitably detracts from their enthusiasm to exercise their right to vote,” he said, adding that he’ll try to explain to them the importance of voting.
Others claim that they had been indifferent to participate to vote because even if the economy had shown improvement, the condition of poor Filipinos had not improved.
“Despite claims that corruption had been greatly reduced under the current administration, it still exists in high places in the government. In fact, I have just read that those benefitting at the Bureau of Customs are up against the proposal of Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon to abolish it,” an OFW belonging to a militant group said.
Ambassador Ezzedin H. Tago has been making appeals to the concerned OFWs to exercise their right to vote because they had worked hard for it.
The Filipino envoy, however, praised some ailing OFWs who appeared at the embassy to vote. They included Joseph Futad Que, a heart attack survivor; Juanito N. Emperador (who said, “It’s the right of every Filipino to vote”); and Lolito B. Torrano who traveled 150 kilometers from Al Kharj to Riyadh to vote.
The embassy announced that the first week of automated elections in Riyadh has been successful. A total of 332 voted on the 7th day of elections in Riyadh, bringing the total voter turnout to 1,326 during the first week of elections.
The first figures for the week of voting in Riyadh coincided with the report of the OAV Secretariat of the Department of Foreign Affairs placing the Philippine Embassy in Riyadh on Top 5 in rank overall among all Foreign Service Posts abroad as of April 18.