April 9, a month before the elections, is the first day for overseas Filipinos to cast their votes.
There’s a bright spot: more than a million have registered to vote (1.38 million), almost double the 700,000 registered voters in 2013.
But the lingering question is: will our OFWs turn up at the polls? In the 2013 mid-term elections, only 16% of those who registered voted. This is the lowest turnout since the overseas absentee voting law was passed in 2003.
The first time OFWs voted, in the 2004 presidential elections, 65% cast their votes. This dipped to 25% in 2010.
Why the lackluster interest?
The answers range from accessibility – OFWs have to physically go to the consulates and embassies to vote – to indifference, as Rappler’s online conversations with OFWs showed.
The Commission on Elections and some of the embassies have addressed the difficulties. In Hong Kong, the Philippine consulate offers free shuttle services to voters.
It remains to be seen whether these efforts will up the number of voters.
Indifference is the tougher challenge. A number of OFWs say they feel their votes do not make a difference. Through the years, they say they have been neglected by government, anyway. Why should they care?
Living far away from the country has a way of detaching OFWs from politics. Survival becomes paramount and, understandably, the connection to home is focused on the personal and domestic level.
But there is a link between the personal and the political: choosing the right leaders can have an impact on the families they left behind. And on themselves: will they eventually have work opportunities in their homeland?
We hail our OFWs as heroes for shoring up the economy with their massive remittances. We look forward to a time when they can make their votes matter as much as their dollars. With their exposure to quality basic services in countries where they work, they can demand these from the leaders back home. They can enrich the national conversation with theirexperiences of good governance.
When translated into votes, they can be an influential force in shaping the future of the country. – Rappler.com