Filipino ambassador urges expats to cast presidential vote

One month to vote, but low turnout among UAE Filipinos is guaranteed after many failed to register.

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ABU DHABI // Filipino expatriates are being encouraged to vote in their country's presidential elections and have a month to do so. Voting for expats will take place at the country's embassy in Abu Dhabi embassy and consulate in Dubai from April 10 to May 10, the day of the election at home. Filipinos will be choosing their next president, vice-president, 12 senators and one party-list group, which represents certain sectors.

However, a low turnout among UAE-based Filipinos is guaranteed since anyone who did not register by the end of August last year is ineligible. There are about 325,000 Filipinos in this country, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From February 1 to August 31 last year, 5,104 registered as absentee voters in Abu Dhabi and 12,379 in Dubai. Another 35,304 had previously registered for the 2004 and 2007 elections.

Those who failed to vote twice in the previous elections and were unable to register last year will not be allowed to vote. In Abu Dhabi alone, 5,157 names were struck off the voters' list, according to Victor Espanola, an administrative officer at the embassy who was in charge of last year's registration. Despite the low turnout, Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, called on the Filipino community to "discern who should lead their country forward".

Last weekend, she asked the leaders of 50 Filipino groups in Abu Dhabi to encourage their members to vote early and avoid long queues at the embassy towards the end of the voting period. The apathy here is reflected among Filipino expats worldwide. Out of eight million Filipinos living and working overseas, only 589,830 are registered to vote, according to the Philippines' Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Ms Princesa said: "I'm so sad that we will not be hitting the one million mark." The poll will be the third that expats have been allowed to take part in since they were granted voting rights in 2004. Ramon Catalla, 38, who works as a civil engineer in Abu Dhabi, said: "I have not seen any real change in our government. We still have widespread corruption. This time we need a president from the religious sector."

Jenny Lacson, 27, an administrative assistant in Abu Dhabi, said she would vote for the administration's candidate. "But we were not properly informed about where and when we could register," she added. Representatives from Comelec and the Philippine department of foreign affairs would be in Abu Dhabi this month to train embassy and consulate staff on voting procedures, said Adelio Angelito Cruz, the consul general.

The three days of training will also be attended by diplomatic staff from Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Kenya and Tehran. Voting is a straightforward process. The voter should present a valid passport or other identification with his name, signature and photograph to the "special board of election inspectors", then fill out a ballot and cast his vote.