Filipinos in UAE bank on 'strong' president to unite country

Many expat voters said they chose 'Bongbong' Macros despite his father's nine-year military rule

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Citizens of the Philippines have said they backed a leader to build a strong economy, unite the country and continue the fight against drugs as the nation voted for a new president.

Hundreds of voters waited under shaded areas at the Philippines' consulate in Dubai on Monday to cast their ballot in the elections.

The UAE has the largest number of registered overseas Filipino voters with more than 290,000 eligible to vote from about 700,000 residents in the country.

In line with the polls in the Philippines, the mood at the consulate in Dubai tilted strongly in favour of Ferdinand Marcos Jr, popularly called “Bongbong” Marcos.

“I vote Marcos, why?" said Ryan Villaflores, 41, who runs a car repair business in Dubai. "It's because he will look after infrastructure, business and the people.

“He will make the country and the economy grow.”

The new leader will take over from President Rodrigo Duterte who in accordance with the country’s rules can serve for a single six-year term.

Expatriates are aware of the Marcos family history, which includes a nine-year military rule imposed by his father, the former president Ferdinand Marcos, and misuse of billions of dollars in public funds but many voters chose to focus on the son’s message of unity.

Mr Marcos Jr and his running mate, Sara Duterte-Carpio, mayor of Davao City and daughter of the current president, are clear favourites.

Filipinas vote in their home country elections in Dubai at the consulate in Al Qusais. Antonie Robertson / The National

Infrastructure plans

“No politician is perfect," said Loiz Pilapil, 32, a retail sales associate in Dubai. "Every government has flaws. I was not born at that time but my parents and grandparents tell me how Marcos Sr built infrastructure and gave free food in the early years.

“I believe Bongbong Marcos will take care of the poor and youth. He will prioritise people’s needs, help people working abroad and work for the betterment of all our lives.”

Renato N Duenas Jr, consul general of the Philippines in Dubai, said the consulate and embassy in Abu Dhabi had seen a steady stream of voters casting their ballot since April 10 when voting for expatriates began.

The identity of voters is verified as they wait in specially set up areas in the consulate compound.

Inside voting zones, they are handed the ballot to mark off and place in the voting machines.

“We have had hundreds of registered voters come daily to express their position on who the leader of our country will be with their vote,” Mr Duenas Jr said.

“This is an automated voting system so ballots will be counted on the last day, which is today.

“It will be maybe a few hours until the last vote is counted.”

The UAE has the largest number of registered overseas Filipino voters, with more than 290,000 eligible to vote from about 700,000 residents in the country. Antonie Robertson / The National

Transparency is key

Mr Marcos Jr’s main challenger is Leni Robredo, a vocal critic of the elder Duterte even though she was his vice president.

Her supporters believe in the transparency and reform that Ms Robredo’s ‘pink revolution’ campaign had promised.

“Her platform is for the farmers, fishermen, for everybody,” said Mary Joy Penaflor, 44, a receptionist in Dubai.

“I’m afraid of martial law and I don’t want that again and for people to suffer.”

Maelina Esguerra, a senior data analyst with a luxury group, echoed her sentiment.

“People want someone with integrity to lead and that is why I voted for Leni,” she said.

“She does not have funds so volunteers worked and contributed to her campaign.

“I pray for Leni because she has proper projects planned for regular people so the taxes people pay will be properly allocated to good projects for workers.”

UAE resident Jess Manglicmot was among the first to vote last month on the day polls opened for overseas citizens in Dubai.

Back home for a break to celebrate his parents' 50th wedding anniversary, the Philippines citizen has enjoyed seeing the election campaign up close in the final few days, with Mr Marcos supporters in red shirts dancing in the streets and Ms Robredo backers releasing pink balloons.

Mr Manglicmot accompanied his mother early on Monday as she stood in line to cast her ballot.

“It’s an exciting time to be in the Philippines, you can feel the vibe – it’s lively and chaotic," said Mr Manglicmot, who works in a Christian evangelical church in Dubai.

“I believe BBM [Bongbong Marcos] will be a good, strong leader.

“My parents have talked about his father’s leadership, projects like national highways built by Marcos Sr.

“The son is charismatic and I don’t believe what the father and family did in the past, the son will repeat.

“I believe Bongbong and Sara Duterte will work in tandem and continue the projects of the current president like infrastructure, housing, highways and the war on drugs. This is what is really important in our country.”

Updated: May 09, 2022, 2:58 PM