First votes by UAE Filipinos cast

Philippine ambassador Grace Princesa urges absentee electorate to ‘elect righteous leaders’.

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ABU DHABI // Filipino expatriates turned out in force to vote for their country’s new leaders on the first day of overseas absentee voting yesterday.

Grace Princesa, the Philippine ambassador, told voters who turned up at the embassy at 8am to choose leaders with a “good track record”.

“This is a historic day for us,” she said. “The vote of overseas Filipinos is important as it can be a swing vote, so I encourage you to elect righteous leaders.”

The first few voters who turned up at the embassy were teachers and staff from Pisco Private School in Abu Dhabi.

There are 29,943 voters in Abu Dhabi and 68,263 voters in Dubai and the Northern Emirates who are eligible to vote at the embassy or consulate until May 13, the day of the election in the Philippines.

They include the 8,298 who failed to cast a ballot at the embassy in Abu Dhabi, and 12,421 at the Dubai consulate, in the 2007 and 2010 elections.

“We’ll reach out to vote for them,” she said. “We plan to conduct outreach and mobile services as well. As we move along, depending on the voter turnout, we’ll adjust the voting time at the embassy.”

One of the venues the embassy has identified is St Joseph’s Church in Abu Dhabi.

A total of 126 voters had cast their ballots at the embassy when polls closed at 5pm, according to a volunteer of the Jesus is Lord church, supporters of Eduardo Villanueva, a senatorial candidate.

Voter numbers at the Dubai consulate were not readily available. Commission on Elections rules prohibit diplomats and members of the board of election inspectors to disclose the voter turnout.

Rosemarie Natividad, 38, the principal at Pisco school, said it was the third time she had voted in Abu Dhabi, where she has lived for the past 14 years. About 50 of the 60 teachers and staff had registered for the May 13 mid-term polls.

“We encouraged our teachers and staff to vote today because they can serve as a role model for others,” she said. “We want to show that we’re active in our government’s affairs.”

The first teacher – and voter – to arrive at the embassy before the polls opened was Imelda Baldoza, 45, a second-grade teacher at Pisco.

“I planned to vote at St Joseph’s Church but decided to come here,” she said. “I still have not decided who to vote for except for at least two candidates.”

There are 33 senatorial candidates and 136 party-list groups. Voters will choose 12 senators and one party-list group, which represents certain sectors.

Her colleague, Carlota Aldaya, 32, arrived a few minutes later.

“It’s my first time to vote and I don’t have an idea how to use the machine,” she said. “On Thursday, we were told by our school administration to come out and vote.”

John Paul Pingol, 27, a cleaner at Pisco, said the voting process was very easy. “It just took me five minutes,” he said. “I’m glad I voted because we’re voting for our future.”

For most, voting was a straightforward process, but some were turned away because their names were not on the voter’s list.

Voters must present a valid passport, or other identification with their name, signature and photograph, to a board of election inspectors, then fill out a ballot and cast a vote.

They darken an oval opposite the name of their preferred candidate and party-list group instead of writing out the details. The ballot is fed into a machine and, after the polls close, it counts the votes.

It is the first time that overseas voters from Abu Dhabi and Dubai will cast their votes using the precinct count optical scan machines. These were first used in the May 2010 national elections in the Philippines and in Singapore and Hong Kong.

Marietta Miranda, 49, a housemaid who has worked for a Jordanian family in Abu Dhabi for 26 years, said she felt nervous and excited.

“I need some guidance,” she said. “It’s my first time to vote and I don’t know any of the candidates.”

In Dubai, the conduct of the elections was peaceful but was marred by an offence, according to Migrante-UAE. “Volunteers of two party-list groups, Cibac and Kalinga, were campaigning ... near the polling place,” Nhel Morona, the UAE country co-ordinator for Migrante Middle East.

“They were handing out flyers ... it’s a breach of election rules and is subject to disqualification.”

Voting at the consulate from Sunday to Thursday will be from 8am to noon and 4pm to 8pm. On weekends, voting will be from 8am to noon and 1pm to 5pm.