Will 1.7 million registered overseas voters matter at all in the 2022 national elections with total registered voters of over 67 million?
At first glance, it appears that overseas votes are inconsequential and almost irrelevant to the outcome of one of the most hotly-contested electoral contests in the country in recent history. After all, how can 1.7 million compare with 67 million? The huge disparity between the two figures understandably buttresses near outright dismissal of overseas votes.
But wait . . . Google Trends as of April 28 indicate a very startling and even shocking shift in voter preferences for president and vice president, with Vice President Leni Robredo garnering 57 percent of Google users against 23 percent for former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Equally shocking figures were shown in the vice presidential race with Francisco Pangilinan gaining the upper hand with 42 percent and Sara Duterte not far behind with 40 percent.
Google said in a footnote in its April 28 findings that it has accurately predicted the outcome of elections in various countries, including the US, France, Brazil and even the Philippines. Google Trends accurately predicted Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden’s 2020 triumph over Trump.
The giant American company, which has been renamed as Alphabet, owns more than 70 businesses including YouTube, and enjoys an unassailable reputation for integrity and reliability. If it cites its accuracy in predicting national elections, including the 2016 polls won by Rodrigo Duterte, there isn’t much reason then to doubt its assertion.
But what if the contest between Marcos and Robredo goes down the wire or narrowly contested until the end, just like in 2016?
Will overseas votes matter then in this kind of scenario? Perhaps, presumably, maybe, especially in another tight race, just like in 2016.
Robredo narrowly defeated Marcos in 2016 with just over 263,0000 votes. The winning margin even got bigger after votes recounts sought by Marcos who claimed he was cheated.
Marcos got the most overseas votes in 2016 and on April 1, he held an online meeting with scores of OFWs in a bid to win over most overseas votes. But beyond retraining of returning OFWs and a general pledge of helping them set up livelihood projects, he gave little details on how OFWs can be assisted in case he becomes president.
Other presidential aspirants have extolled the significant contributions that are being made by OFWs in their role as “modern heroes of the land,” but the most that the latter have garnered were motherhood pledges of support.
In pleasant contrast, Robredo has gone beyond motherhood pledges of support. Late in February, she tackled in an online forum the root causes of OFW migration, specifically the need for intensified jobs creation in the country so overseas jobs are relegated to being just an option and not a necessity, an expanded reintegration program for returning OFWs and the need to set up a pension fund for them.
Although public forums often disable resource speakers from tackling in great detail the subject at hand, she nevertheless stood out among all presidential contenders when she pinpointed and zeroed in the most problematic issues confronting returning OFWs.
A ₱2-billion OFW reintegration funding scheme was established in 2012 during the time of former President Benigno Aquino. Although the scheme was intended to bolster and expand the government’s reintegration assistance to returning OFWs, the Land Bank-administered program has done little so far to achieve its objectives. Highly-stringent lending guidelines have screened out many returning OFWs from this reintegration program.
Hunger and poverty with no income source amid the Covid crisis have prompted scores Filipino women to shut down their mental faculties and grab whatever overseas jobs as domestic helpers that they can find. Oblivious of the never-ending tales of physical abuses and mental tortures in stay-in domestic helper jobs in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other parts of the Middle East, desperate Filipino women are embracing this cruel fate for the sake of loved ones, especially minor children.
If more jobs or livelihood projects are created, more and more women will choose to stay with their children and other loved ones instead of leaving them for overseas jobs. A straightforward and simple strategic solution to a complex problem, courtesy of a presidential contender with a track record for working with the poor.
So, do OFWs count in the May 2022 elections? Yes, they do as indicated by Robredo’s incisive assessment of their predicament and the way forward for them.
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