Will OFWs finally win party-list seats this year?

Published by rudy Date posted on April 5, 2010

Fragmented parties an obstacle to victory

MANILA, Philippines – The sheer number of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) can send more than 1 representative to Congress. In the past party-list elections, many groups, both land- and sea-based, have attempted to win seats, but have so far failed to get the needed votes to propel their representatives to the lower house.

This year, 187 party-list groups representing various sectors are vying for seats in the House of Representatives. Can the OFW sector finally win representation in Congress in this election?

According to Commodore Adonis Donato and former migrant worker Jun Aguilar, no organization or individual has been able to really organize the OFW sector to support a party-list group that would give them a voice in Congress.

Repeating same mistakes?

During the first party-list election, the maritime sector participated, wherein Donato was among those chosen to represent it.

“The maritime sector is very much interested. Matagal nang may clamor to have a representative in Congress. It is very important that our sector be represented dahil and Philippines is supposedly a maritime nation,” Donato said.

In 2008, the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) deployed 261,614 seafarers. Although there was a 1.9% decline in deployment as compared to the 266,553 in 2007 due to the financial crisis and incidents of piracy in Somalia, Filipino seafarers continue to dominate the world’s seafaring industry with a 28% share of the world’s maritime workforce.

“We campaigned. Ang problema, fragmented,” Donato said.

Some of the groups joining the party-list election on May 10 are:

* Adhikaing Alay ng Marino sa Sambayanan, Inc. (ALON);
* Akbay Pinoy OFW-National, Inc. (APOI);
* Alyansa ng OFW Party (Alyansa ng OFW);
* Ang Kapisanan ng mga Seaman (AKSI);
* Pamilyang OFW-SME Network Foundation; and,
* United Filipino Seafarers (UFS).

Instead of one solid party for the sea-based sector, many maritime or seafaring groups have joined the political race.

“How can we possibly garner the minimum number required votes to have a place in Congress when we are again divided?” Donato said in his piece published in the United Filipino Seafarers website.

Donato said that even though most seafarers are onboard ships, tapping their families and schools would greatly help gather the much-needed votes.

“Ok pa rin yun if we work with the maritime schools, graduates and families, training centers, domestic shipping,” he said.

He lamented that seamen are often denied of their right to vote, particularly if the ports are too far from the cities and they would only stay there for less than an hour.

“We have been sacrificing a lot and contributing a lot to the coffers of the economy,” he said.

He said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) should seriously think about internet voting to make the process more accessible to those on board ships.

One party needed

What he hopes to see in the future is the holding of a national maritime convention to choose one party-list group who will represent the sector.

“Ang advocacy is to unite at magkaroon ng national convention,” he said.

He admitted that while it may take a long while to do that, he said the industry is also open to joining forces with the land-based sector.

Donato’s sentiments were also echoed by Aguilar, a former OFW in Saudi Arabia who is also the central Metro Manila president of the political organization called Partido ng Pandaigdigang Pilipino (PPP).

“I’m telling them to put up a national party that is at par with any political party. Otherwise, we are just wasting our money and time, mas magiging more divided lang. Yung mga hindi napipili as nominee nagtatayo ng panibagong organization,” Aguilar explained.

The POEA 2008 annual report stated that the Philippines deployed 3,377 OFWs on a daily basis. It has facilitated the deployment of 1,236,013 OFWs to more than 190 countries and territories.

“Sobrang laki ng sektor, mahirap gawing single coordinated effort lalo na hiwa-hiwalay sila ng lokasyon. Hindi madaling i-unify,” Aguilar said.

Doubts cast on OFW party-list groups

Aguilar said the recent reports that many party-list groups are actually fronts of the Arroyo administration have further cast doubts about the credibility of the party-list election. (Related story:)

“May mga hindi lehitimong OFW party-lists na gumagamit ng sector,” Aguilar said, while many legitimate groups have been disqualified by the Comelec to run in this election.

“Nagka-gastos na sila. Kung sino pa ang lehitimo, sila pa ang disapproved, while yung mga groups na nagpapanggap na hindi naman OFWs, sila ang nakakasali,” he said.

Aguilar recently visited Saudi Arabia to meet with some Filipino community leaders there.

He revealed that Ang Gabay ng OFW in Jeddah, United OFW in Riyadh, and Ako OFW in the eastern province of Saudi Arabia were disqualified from the party-list elections.

“Lahat di naaprubahan. They spent some amount para sa documentation, petition, paying a legal consultant…At the end of the day pera-pera pa rin pala bago bigyan ng accreditation,” Aguilar said.

Aguilar said the administration sees the OFW sector as a threat, and would not want it to grow strong.

“They are a formidable force, well structured. They would rather see them disunited, fragmented,” he said.

‘No one to blame but us’

He said that it is only right for the sector to have a voice in the political arena.

“Highly marginalized ang sector sa dami ng concerns at problema walang tamang reprsentasyon. Who is going to take the cudgels for us?” Aguilar asked.

However, he added: “Unfortunately, if there is anybody to blame, it’s us. [I’m] Not pointing fingers sa government and other political parties—nobody but us.”

Another factor is the low credibility of the Philippine elections among OFWs.

This cynicism is brought about by previous poll scandals, some even involving officers of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which have remained unresolved and have contributed to the low turnout of registered voters.

The Comelec and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) overseas absentee voting (OAV) secretariat has registered 589,830 voters for the May polls. Of the total, 568,733 are land-based OFWs while 21,097 are sea-based.

Despite this, the DFA and Comelec are still optimistic of a high turnout of votes. Both agencies hope to surpass the voter turnout in the presidential election in 2004 (64%) and in the 2007 mid-term polls (16%). (Related story:)

But once united, Aguilar believes that “no sitting government or president ang magde-decision ng walang consultation sa amin.”

“Alam ng kahit na sinong nakaupo na mayroong political party sa sector na kailangang konsultahin lalo na kung makaka-apekto sa sektor,” he said.

John Leonard Monterona, an OFW and the regional coordinator of Migrante Middle East Chapter, said the phenomenon that drives one to work abroad is more economic rather than political.

“Hence, it is more commonly observed that OFWs are much more concerned about the economic side of their being than their political participation,” Monterona said.

Monterona said that the OAV system is relatively new, and that not many OFWs are aware of its significance. This, he said, has been a challenge to migrant organizations like that of Migrante, which continuously work towards raising the political consciousness of OFWs.

He said if the relationship between the OFW and his relatives was not only based on economics, “kahit 6 seats of OFW representatives in Congress kayang maipanalo given that there are 10 million overseas Filipinos.”

“It is indeed a great challenge for the sector to have a genuine OFW representative in Congress that would advance and defend their rights, well being and welfare,” Monterona said. — Maria Aleta Nieva Nishimori, abs-cbnNEWS.com

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