A law allowing Filipinos abroad to vote in elections for their president and lawmakers was passed by the country's congress yesterday, boosting the political influence of overseas workers, including maids in Hong Kong. The legislation followed a 15-year battle to enfranchise Filipinos overseas. It is likely to mean that the opinions of local workers on issues such as whether a $500 tax should be imposed on maids is likely to carry more weight with the country's political leaders. 'Everybody will be courting them [the workers in Hong Kong],' predicted the chairman of the Philippines House Foreign Relations Committee, Apolinario Lozada. They can pressure Congress to pass legislation on their behalf, urge senators to speak out for them and even vote fellow contract workers into Congress, he said. Consul Domingo Lucenario at the Philippine Consulate in Hong Kong said the new system would benefit migrant workers abroad. 'This will empower them to choose the leaders who will be running our country,' he said. 'Naturally our leaders in the Philippines will be more sensitive to the views and comments of Filipino overseas workers. We expect increased consultation with them, especially on matters that will be affecting them directly.' But local Filipino workers, while welcoming the move, believe it will only have a limited impact on the influence they will be able to exert. 'There is no guarantee that our voices will be heard,' said Connie Bragas Regalado, spokeswoman for the Asian Migrants Co-ordinating Body. 'Although we welcome this, we have to go beyond the ballot box. We have to actively push the issues. We have to continue organising movements to ensure that our demand for rights and welfare won't be ignored.' The chairwoman of the Coalition for Migrant Rights in Hong Kong, Lori Brunio, said she had little faith in the political system in the Philippines and expressed doubts over how much impact the system would have on the welfare of migrants abroad. 'Philippine politics are very dirty,' she said. 'If the government really wants to make the situation of migrant workers better, they will have to come up with more policies to make sure we won't be victims of, for example, the [proposed] Hong Kong tax.' Daisy Mandap, chairwoman of the Philippine Association of Hong Kong, said: 'I am glad that our lawmakers have finally delivered on their promise to allow all overseas Filipinos to exercise their right to vote, which is guaranteed by our constitution. 'The challenge now is to ensure the sanctity of our ballot. But with the keen interest shown by the Filipino community in Hong Kong on the issue, I am sure this will not be a big problem for us here.' Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is expected to sign the bill into law by next week at the latest. It will apply to 7.5 million Filipinos overseas, although only half of them are expected to vote in next year's presidential election. Under the law, overseas workers in Hong Kong will be able to register as voters through the Philippine consulate, which will forward their papers to the Commission on Elections. The election office will issue voter identity cards. Votes can be cast at the consulate anytime during the 30 days before election day in the Philippines.