The OFW voting bloc

Meet Angela Marie. Her friends call her “Amie.” She is 32 years old and comes from the Calabarzon Region. A high school graduate, she works at what is classified as an “elementary occupation.” Food preparation assistants and cleaners and helpers in private households, hotels, offices, and hospitals are part of this employment group.

Employed in Saudi Arabia, Amie sends P56,000 home to her family every year. She is one of our overseas Filipino workers that remit billions of dollars to the Philippines every year. Based on the demographics of 2.2 million overseas Filipino workers identified by the Philippine Statistics Authority in 2019, Amie is our “average” OFW.

OFWs are a special part of the Philippine society. Their economic contribution has seen them proclaimed as “Heroes of the Republic.” The story of their lives has been told in movies such as the iconic 2000 film Anak, where Vilma Santos and Claudine Barretto made the OFW narratives come to life. Millions of Filipino families are supported at least in part by an OFW relative.

We must note though that the OFWs are in a sense a separate “class.” The OFW demographics of sex, age, and employment—and obviously, physical location—do not reflect the nation. Not only are the demographics different, but also because of their “long-distance relationship” with the Philippines. They are not able to see what we see on a day-to-day basis. Their sources of news about the country are not the same as ours.

Perhaps these are some of the reasons why the OFW voter turnout in past elections has been so low. In 2016, total registered voter turnout was 80.69 percent. OFW turnout in each major deployment area—North and Latin America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and the Middle East and Africa—has not reached 50 percent of registered voters in the past five elections. At its highest, it was 42 percent among Filipino voters in the Asia-Pacific region in 2016.

However, the turnout percentage and number of actual votes have been rising. In the 2010 elections, there were some 154,000 votes; in the 2016 elections, over 425,000 OFW votes were tallied. Efforts have increased to make it easier for OFWs to register and vote. Global Internet communications vastly improved between 2010 and 2016. Perhaps, over the years, OFWs have recognized how important voting has become.

In 2010, Benigno Aquino III received 53 percent of the OFW votes cast for President. In 2016, Duterte received 72 percent of the OFW votes cast for President. Mar Roxas received about the same percentage for Vice President in 2010, with winner Jejomar Binay in third. “Bongbong” Marcos was the 2016 OFW winner with 41 percent. Cayetano was second, and Robredo, third.

The next national election in 2022 is going to be most interesting as to the OFW “voting bloc.” According to the Department of Labor and Employment, almost 500,000 OFWs have returned home because of the pandemic. The changes that will happen by May 2022 are obviously unknown. Also unknown is the effect of OFW voter registration as the Commission on Elections has reminded them that “OFWs who returned to the Philippines during the Covid-19 pandemic must transfer their registration records to be able to vote in the 2022 elections.”

Will the number of OFW “votes” increase in 2022 with more OFWs returning home? Will that 72 percent voting support for Duterte in 2016 carry over to 2022? Could the vote of Angela Marie and other OFWs—both at home and abroad—swing the next election?

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