Democrats in the Philippines celebrate after Barack Obama was declared the winner in the US presidential elections. Benjie CastroMANILA, Philippines - After the dust has settled in the historic US presidential race, Filipinos all over the globe not only witnessed the possibility that a man of color could be elevated to the White House but also that their vote - at least in efficient democratic countries - counts.
While the Philippines’ own presidential elections has yet to unfold in the next two years, overseas Filipinos couldn’t help but compare the glaring differences on how the US conducts its elections.
"The elections there are lightning fast," said Aurelia Holandes, a 78-year-old grandmother who has relatives in the US. “In the Philippines, the results are known in a month, and even then not all votes are counted. But in the US it only takes one day, one day I tell you."
Pinoys have never felt more valued during Election Day in the US where votes are electronically cast and counted. In the West Coast in particular, some poll booths like in Carson City, California even had Tagalog instructions for Filipinos.
When Obama was elected as the first African-American president about 2.7- million Filipinos were in the US, according to the Commission on Filipinos Overseas. A majority of US-based Filipinos like Anna, are in California - the state with the largest population of Filipinos outside the Philippines. She chose the Chicago senator over war veteran John McCain simply because of skin color. “We’re minorities. I’d rather have somebody that will represent us," she told GMANews.
Most Filipino-Americans have been rooting for Obama to win the presidential elections to better their chance of voicing out their concerns. “The Filipino-American US citizens are really making a history, you know? It’s awesome," said New Jersey-based Susan Dikes, executive director of the Filipino Americans Services Group, on the turnout of Pinoy voters in the US polls.
The essential principles of electoral participation as well as equality before the law were held by Filipino migrants in high esteem, said a recently published study by German researchers Dr. Christl Kessler and Stefan Rother.
However, when they asked 1,000 overseas Filipino worker (OFW) returnees from the Middle East and East Asia, they discovered that while migrants are determined to exercise their democratic right to vote, they also become more critical of the Philippines after having been abroad.
Filipinos who come from states, which the Freedom House Index identifies as democratic – Japan and Taiwan – and authoritarian – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Hong Kong - often feel alienated.
“I myself am a Filipino, but I don’t give a damn about this country," a 24-year-old respondent from Dubai was quoted as saying.
Migration changes the yardstick on which output performance is measured, according to the study. “They think the nation is run by a powerful few and they cannot do much about whoever people vote for since it does not lead to change," it added.
It can be argued that since the overthrow of Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the Filipino voting public had remained cynical of Philippine elections which are often marred by issues of cheating, violence and corruption.
This situation is very different in the US where elections are fast, orderly, and seldom controversial. A day after the elections, the results had been made. Republican candidate John McCain immediately conceded and extended his hand of support to his Democrat rival.
“Here in the Philippines no one loses," said a Filipino broadcast journalist, “Everyone just got cheated."
Filipino presidential candidates are also often deemed as “trapos" or traditional politicians which in one way or another have roamed the government’s halls for years and have nothing new to offer to the country.
Greg Macabenta, a syndicated journalist and national chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, said Filipino migrants have yet to realize that they are a powerful force to be reckoned with in Philippine politics.
“Our involvement in Philippine affairs still needs to go beyond sending money," he told GMANews.TV in an e-mail. “(That’s why) overseas voting registration continues to be dismally low."
As of 2007, only 504,124 of the estimated eight million Filipinos overseas have registered to vote. The number of absentee voters could go down when the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) updates its records next month, said a government official.
Beyond the perceived lack of interest in Philippine politics, however, Macabenta believes overseas Pinoys who don’t want to vote are simply uninspired.
“Right now, overseas Filipinos still see no one in the Philippines who can inspire them with respect to the 2010 elections," he said.
This seems to be the sentiment of second generation migrants in the US like Luisa Ramirez, who waited in line for 30 minutes under Florida’s humid weather to vote on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old nurse had settled in sunny Florida for a decade after her mother petitioned them from Quezon City. “This is my chance to be heard," she told GMANews.TV in a phone interview on Thursday.
“I went to the precincts in the Philippines to cast my ballot several years ago as a first-time voter. But I know this will be the first time I’ll be heard," she said. - GMANews.TV