Filipinos leave it late for voting

Polls open another day for expatriates wanting to choose their next president.

Election posters hang outside a school in Manila. Thousands of Filipino expats have voted in the UAE. Dondi Tawatao / Getty Images
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ABU DHABI // Hundreds of Filipinos flocked to their embassy and consulate on Sunday as polls remained open for 24 hours to accommodate the last-minute rush of voters for the country’s presidential election.

Diplomats said they were expecting a rush of voters in the final stretch of month-long overseas voting.

“Constancio Vingno Jr, the Philippine ambassador to the UAE, said on Sunday: “We’re glad we decided to open from 8pm to 8am, starting yesterday. Imagine, we could have turned away the 61 nurses who came here late last night.”

Rachel Ann Baluyot, 30, who drives for an Emirati family, said it was not unusual for Filipinos to leave it late to vote in their country’s elections.

“It’s a typical Filipino mentality,” she said, after feeding her ballot into a machine. “What’s important is that we’re able to choose the right leaders, and to vote for change.”

Rey Arieta, 44, an engineering supervisor at Healthpoint, agreed. “I’ve always been meaning to vote but couldn’t find the time,” he said. “People are taking time off to vote before the polls close tomorrow. That means a lot.”

Filipinos will be choosing their country’s next president, vice president, 12 senators and one party-list representative.

On Friday, 1,591 turned up at the embassy to vote with 1,432 voters on Saturday. In Dubai, 2,751 had voted at the consulate on Friday, and 2,805 on Saturday.

By Saturday, 22,026 of the 72,661 voters in Abu Dhabi had cast their votes, representing a 30 per cent voter turnout, according to the DFA’s overseas voting secretariat. Of the 122,953 registered voters in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, 35,081 or nearly 29 per cent, had voted at the consulate in Dubai.

On Monday, voting will be from 5am to 1pm, which coincides with the one-day elections across the Philippines.

“We’ll still accommodate those who are already inside the embassy by 1pm,” Mr Vingno said. “We’ll write all their names so they can proceed to their voting precincts.” Anyone within a 30-metre radius after the closing time will still be allowed to vote, according to the Commission on Elections rules.

To cap the month-long activity, a vigil concert featuring songs and dances was held at the consulate grounds on Sunday night.

“Tonight’s event is a call for Filipinos to pray and hope that the elections tomorrow back home will be a peaceful and meaningful one,” said Paul Raymond Cortes, the consul general in Dubai, who is looking at a voter turnout of 40,000 voters from Dubai and the Northern Emirates. “It’s also a thanksgiving for the close of our month-long overseas voting.”

The elections caused some animosity among Filipinos who support different presidential candidates. “After all has been said and done, let’s forget whatever misunderstandings we’ve had and respect the outcome of the elections,” Mr Vingno said.

rruiz@thenational.ae