Filipinos in UAE say their voices must be heard in upcoming elections

Filipinos living in the UAE want more protection from their government as they prepare to cast their vote in May elections

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Filipinos in the UAE have called for an end to "dirty politics" in their homeland and urged candidates in the upcoming elections to protect their compatriots based overseas.

Voting in the Philippines midterm elections - to be held on May 13 - will get under way on Saturday.

Although controversial President Rodrigo Duterte will not be up for election, the poll is being viewed as a potential vote of confidence - or disapproval - in the leaders' divisive policies.

A total of 12 seats will be up for grabs in the country's senate, while the Philippines electorate will also appoint 300 members of congress, local council members, provincial governors as well as town and city mayors.

Among the high-profile candidates competing for the seats this year are Mar Roxas and Grace Poe who finished second and third in the 2016 presidential elections to Rodrigo Duterte.

Filipinos in the UAE will have a huge say in the outcome of the election, with an estimated 550,000 Filipinos based in Dubai and a further 200,000 across the rest of the country.

Those who spoke to The National just days before casting their vote, said it is vital that politicians listen to their needs as many of them are the main breadwinners for their families who remain in the Philippines.

Among their chief concerns were unscrupulous recruitment agencies taking advantage of the weak economy in the Philippines and offering people glamorous careers abroad that did not exist.

“Recruitment agencies here are making false promises to Filipinos about jobs with international companies,” said Josie Conlu Romulo, 43, who has lived in Dubai for 10 years.

“So many times you will see vulnerable Filipinas ending up working as unregistered house maids here.

“The candidates in this election need to be able to serve our community here in the UAE from the moment they are voted in.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his speech during the 117th police anniversary celebration at the national headquarters in Manila on August 8, 2018. (Photo by TED ALJIBE / AFP)
The midterm elections are being viewed as a referendum on President Rodrigo Duterte's poloicies, particularly his violent war on drug crime. AFP  

“Something also needs to be done to protect the Filipino community here against banks that are handing out credit cards without doing proper credit checks on people,” said Ms Romulo.

“Filipinos are being given credit cards with huge limits on them that they will never realistically be able to pay back.

“It is ruining the lives of many families here and putting people under incredible pressure.”

Hundreds of undocumented Filipinos were repatriated from the UAE last year as part of an amnesty programme that allowed undocumented workers to return home, free from the fear of prosecution.

Among the Filipinos who returned home were people who had been working unregistered in the UAE for more than 10 years.

Only last month, 30 undocumented Filipino workers were prevented from leaving for the Middle East by immigration officials at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Jason Roi Bucton, a 37-year-old architect living in Dubai, believed it was important for the country to have a fair and transparent election.

“Candidates buying votes to get elected has long been a problem with Filipino politicians,” he said.

“The Philippines has had its share of dirty politics. It’s about time we changed that by casting our votes for the right candidates.”

The fact that so many members of the Filipino community here in the UAE were the primary source of income for their families back home made them a powerful voice in the election, said Lyndon Magsino, 38, an accountant who has lived in Dubai for four years.

Many commentators have also said the election was a referendum on the current administration, particularly on its policies on crime.

Mr Magsino believed that reports that President Duterte was taking a heavy handed approach to the country’s crime problems were unfair.

The voting schedule for Filipinos based overseas.
The voting schedule for Filipinos based overseas.

The Philippines president came under criticism after the death toll for his war on drugs was announced to have reached more than 5,000 at the end of last year.

According to official figures, 5,050 lives were lost between July 2016 and the end of November 2018, mostly at the hands of the police.

“It is much safer than it has been for a long time for people in The Philippines,” said Mr Magsino.

“Opponents of Duterte are just exploiting the situation (with the war on drugs) to make him look bad.”

Amy Magracia-Miranda, a 45-year-old nurse living in Um Al Quwain, said that the Duterte administration was just what her home country needed.

“The situation around President Duterte has been sensationalised as he dares to talk about the crime syndicates, corrupt officials and gangsters who do not want positive change in the country,” she said.

“By serving the needs of the common people, not those in power, he has shown his love for his country.”

She said that for many Filipinos living in the UAE the main issue facing them is job security.

“We have all seen the stories about Filipinos who have had to return home because they lost their jobs or were not receiving their salaries on time,” she said.

“Another issue is they are not able to afford hospital treatment because of the high cost of medical insurance here.

“I believe, that both the UAE and The Philippines should work together to help Filipinos working overseas and their families, as we are making significant contributions to the development of both countries.”