SAN FRANCISCO (UPDATE) – Until the last few hours before the polls closed for Filipinos in the United States, Philippine embassy officials were still urging overseas absentee voters to take part in Philippine midterm elections.
A total of 13,976 Filipinos voted in the United States and Caribbean out of 125,604 registered voters – a dismal turnout of 11%.
Ballots were either mailed in or personally delivered to various consular offices: Los Angeles (3,654); Washington D.C. (1,115); Chicago (1,224); New York (2,377); Guam (2028); Honolulu (577); Carribean (155).
In San Francisco, 2,846 Filipinos voted, out of 17,859 who registered.
Consul General Marciano Paynor pointed out that the Philippine government has done its part in convincing "kababayans" here to exercise their right of suffrage, by conducting mobile overseas absentee voting registration in dense Filipino communities across the country in the last two years.
"I’ve told them, unless we empower ourselves, unless you empower yourselves, elected officials here won’t listen to you and you can’t complain about what’s happening in the Philippines," Paynor said.
Paynor attributed the low turnout to a couple of things: problems in mailing in ballots that include insufficient addresses and incorrect format and that provision in the OAV law requiring one to return to the Philippines within 3 years after registering as an overseas absentee voter. The latter easily discourages participation from US permanent residents who have gambled on the American dream.
When it comes down to it, Paynor said, it remains a problem of apathy.
"Some of them wouldn't even take part in US elections—in the country where they are right now, what more in a country they've left?” Paynor said.
Why New York Pinoys didn't vote
In Toms River, New Jersey, about 70 miles away from the Philippine Consulate in Manhattan, dozens of Filipinos here say there are numerous reasons why many of them were not able to exercise their right of suffrage.
"I haven't registered yet, even though I'm a dual citizen, because I'm busy with work,” Loida Suatengco said.
"It's my fault, I think, because I could've done more to know about what the situation is in the Philippines, and at this point I'm not comfortable,” Jocelyn Bautista said, “Because I don’t know the candidates and when I don't know what their platform is, I can't really be convinced that I'm voting for the right person.”
“I’m no longer in touch with what’s happening in the Philippines. I watch TFC, I watch the news but I never saw the candidates talk yet, or give speeches in their campaign so I cannot tell,” balladeer Bert Nievera who performed in Toms River last Saturday said.
“The problem that I see, at least in my point of view is the fact that there has not been a lot of massive-massive information dissemination among the Filipino-American, “Jesus is Lord Fellowship Pastor Nestor Arellano said, “They feel the disconnect between the Philippine Government and where they're at. Call it complacency, call it apathy, there's a portion of that among the Filipinos.”
Toms River Filipino community leader Beth Campos said that while the Philippine Consulate has been reaching out to their community to get more Filipinos registered to vote, there may be other ways to improve the voter turnout for OAV -- such as makig voting available online.
"Bring the election here in America using the technology, it is going to be easier for us not only for me but for everybody and we will be participating for the future elections,” Campos said.
"There's actually a pending bill already in the Philippine Congress for electronic voting - for internet or online voting - hopefully by the time the next National Elections comes around which is 20-6 which is a Presidential election, it would be fully implemented or at the very least they will consider a pilot project,” said Deputy Consul General Tess Dizon De Vega.
"The comments we receive from the community will be included in the general observation that we will send to Manila, to OAVS and of course COMELEC,” said Consul General Mario De Leon.