For many Malaysia-based Filipinos, in this year’s polls it’s President Rodrigo Duterte all the way
- Three years ago, the outspoken populist president took 70 per cent of the vote among Filipinos living overseas
- Many in Malaysia now expect the candidates he backs to win big in next month’s midterm elections
Conversations usually revolve around the latest gossip, news from back home and possible job opportunities, but with the Philippines’ midterm elections fast approaching on May 13, much of the chatter has now turned to voting preferences.
Sales and marketing director Ina Muñoz said that of the 62 candidates competing for 12 seats in the country’s Senate, those endorsed by Duterte are likely to win big – at least among the 18,557 people, including nearly 15,000 women, who are registered for overseas voting at the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Turnout from such voters is usually low, however. Just 31 per cent of Filipinos living abroad who were able to vote did so last time round. Then there are those who do not register at all – of the estimated 700,000 Filipinos living in Malaysia, fewer than 3 per cent are registered to vote.
Clare Santiago is among those who missed September’s registration deadline. Though the domestic worker, who has lived in Malaysia for nearly six years, cannot vote in this election, she said she would pick a Duterte-backed candidate if she could. “I believe in [him],” she said.
Fellow domestic worker Ria Rodesillas, a native of the southern island of Mindanao which the president also calls home, said she closely follows domestic politics, “watching every time about Duterte [and] what he is saying”.
The two women, like many Filipinos living overseas, send a chunk of their earnings home every month to support their families – in Santiago’s case, two children being looked after by her sister.
“8,000 people were killed because of drugs, but they’re not thinking of millions of kids affected because of drugs,” said Muñoz, the sales and marketing director. “As a mother, that is important.”
Another woman, who did not give her name, said she had just returned from a visit to the Philippines and found that “there is less crime, I can stay out late”.
While others, like Santiago, simply see the opposition as “very corrupt”. “They don’t want change in the Philippines,” she said.