Somebody has asked me if I believe there is a so-called “OFW vote.” “Yes,” I readily answered. “And OFWs have the numbers to make Susan ‘Toots’ Ople win.”
Toots is a senatorial candidate running under the Nacionalista Party ticket led by its standard-bearer, Manny Villar, and the youngest daughter of the late statesman, Blas F. Ople, “father of overseas employment.”
Here is my simple arithmetic to prove my point:
There are over eight million OFWs working today in over 190 countries around the globe, mostly family breadwinners. Of this number, over 500,000 have registered to vote. Even if they will turn out 100 percent during their one-month voting period, which started on April 10, their number is too small to make Toots win.
But their real voting strength lies with their families here in the Philippines, which have at least one voter each, and sometime two or three. As breadwinners, the OFWs hold in their hands what we call “command votes,” which can go to Toots on their mere texts or phone calls to voting family members.
That will translate into over eight million votes for Toots, which is a substantial base for winning a Senate seat. Add the votes of ordinary local workers in the organized and informal sectors, who are presumed to be Ople partisans, and you have Toots a shoo-in winner in the May 10 election.
Our overseas workers constitute a formidable voting constituency, like the religious groups with millions of followers, which are wooed and courted by politicians in every election.
Sad to say, they are not aware of that potential. It is easy to achieve this, and the only way is for them to get truly united and organized.
Toots’ Senate bid is rooted in her passion to pursue the overseas employment program in the shape of her father’s vision. “I want to be relevant and faithful to the sector which he took care of the most,” she said.
Many see in Toots the incarnation of her father in many aspects—integrity, intelligence, industry and idealism in the government service.
Her heart bleeds for trafficked women, deceived recruits, stranded and distressed workers, and those doomed to death in foreign lands for crimes they would not have committed if treated fairly by their employers.
She took up the fight for 130 bus drivers who were tricked into coming to Dubai for supposed well-paying jobs, were stranded for weeks and had to scrounge for food in garbage heaps. She gave them a lawyer to seek justice in the courts
As president of the Blas F. Ople Center, a nongovernment organization, she led the drive against human trafficking, going as far as Malaysia to look into reports that victims had been forced into prostitution.
She pledged to introduce a measure giving more teeth to the campaign against human trafficking. A Harvard graduate, she was cited for the Harvard Alumni Achievement Award for her work against human trafficking. She is due to receive the award on May 14.
Toots Ople is running on the platform that if elected, she would initiate legislation that will address new and emerging problems facing OFWs today.
She seeks greater OFWs’ representation in the governing boards of the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, Overseas Workers Welfare Administration and the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority.
She also wants a more effective government’s reintegration program to make returning OFWs still productive by encouraging them to become entrepreneurs. In this regard, she called for their greater access to government credit facilities to enable them to raise funds for their chosen business.
I don’t see anyone among the senatorial candidates who can truly champion the cause of OFWs in the Senate but Toots, who has earned her spurs in the world of work since tagging along with her father as Labor secretary. Unfortunately, she is not faring well in the surveys.
Now is the time for OFWs to prove that, indeed, there is such an OFW vote by voting solidly for Toots Ople and prove that the surveys are all wrong.
It behooves OFWs—and all workers in general—to support Toots’ candidacy not only in gratitude for her father’s greatest legacy, which is overseas employment, but also as a fitting tribute to his outstanding achievements as the staunch champion of the working class.
firstname.lastname@example.org –ALFREDO G. ROSARIO, Manila Times