Filipinos in Canada weigh in on the presidential election from afar, with money and votes

Connie Vacalares knows how polarized and intense the election campaign in the Philippines is. She hears about the splits all day from her Filipino customers at her Asian grocery store, Manila BBQ SuperMart, in New Westminster, British Columbia.

“Families, friends, they are divided,” she said.

They are divided because race favorite Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is the son of the notorious dictator whose 20-year tyranny ended in an uprising in the 1980s.

Some people are furiously supportive of Marcos Jr., despite his family background, while others despise him.

Some of Vacalares’ clients cannot vote — they gave up that right when they became Canadian citizens. But they come to his store to offer another type of currency for election: silver.

Specifically, the discount. This is how the diaspora sends money home, via a transfer in the SuperMart, and a common way for ineligible Filipino voters to participate in elections through family and friends.

Whether with money or votes, Filipinos in Canada have been encouraged to engage more in this contentious election, despite the distance, and rallies for the candidates in Winnipeg and Calgary have drawn hundreds of supporters. .

Influencing the family

Due to citizenship rules in the Philippines, when a Filipino becomes a citizen of another country, he loses his civil and political rights in the Philippines, which include the right to vote. A person can eventually get their citizenship back by completing an application and paying a fee, but surrender can be a faster form of political influence.

Susana Lorenzo says she is concerned about the younger generation in the Philippines and tried to influence her family to vote for Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., who she says is “really qualified”. (Andrew Lee/CBC)

Every year, billions of dollars are sent to the Philippines by foreign workers from around the world, according to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration.

The Manila BBQ SuperMart processes remittance payments every day of the week. Vacalares says she talks to people daily about the purpose of their payment and that politics has been coming up a lot lately.

“The voice of someone who is here in Canada is very strong,” she said. “They can influence their family [because] it is they who give them their indemnities.”

The other way to participate in the election is of course to vote.

This election, more than 1.6 million voters around the world will cast their ballots, according to the country’s Election Commission. This includes 90,000 registered voters from across Canada, many of whom are concentrated in four Canadian provinces – Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba, according to the 2016 Census Profile on ethnic origin.

The dictator’s son in the lead

Elections on May 9 will decide a new leader for the Philippines as President Rodrigo Duterte’s six-year term comes to an end.

Many candidates are running for president, including boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, but most voters are paying attention to two favorites: Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Leni Robredo.

Presidential hopeful, former Senator Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr., center, the late dictator’s son, waves to the crowd during a campaign rally in Quezon City, the Philippines, April 13. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press)

Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also known as Bongbong Marcos or BBM, is leading the opinion polls. He is the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos senior, overthrown in 1986.

He is also the preferred candidate of Susana Lorenzo in New Westminster, who says she does her best to influence her family to vote for him and his party.

Lorenzo sings “BBM, BBM” while sending money to his family at the Manilla BBQ SuperMart.

Lorenzo can’t vote because she’s a Canadian citizen, but says she’s trying to protect her family back home by sending money and political advice.

She says she worries about the younger generation in the Philippines and what their future will look like as the country struggles with high inflation.

“We want the economy to continue, because people are suffering right now, because of the pandemic.”

Electoral underdog

The other favorite is the current Vice President of the Philippines Leni Robredo.

Robredo is a human rights lawyer with a popular underdog campaign who has been known for months for his enthusiastic use of the color pink.

Vice President Leni Robredo, who is also celebrating her 57th birthday, addresses the crowd during her presidential campaign rally in Pasay City, the Philippines, April 23. (Aaron Favila/Associated Press)

Robredo also has a strong affiliation with the movement that overthrew the Marcos dictatorship, which explains why there is so much friction between the two candidates and their supporters.

For Robredo supporter Amado Mercado, this election is personal.

The British Columbia-based Canadian-Filipino vows never to return to the Philippines if Marcos Jr. wins, due to the campaign’s ties to his father’s dictatorship and his closeness to President Duterte, whose daughter is running mate by Marcos Jr.

The legacy of the brutal regime and corruption of the Marcos years and the human rights abuses of Duterte during his bloody crusade against suspected drug traffickers make this election a battle of “good versus evil”, said Mercado told CBC.

Amado Mercado has lived in Canada for 33 years and is a registered foreign voter. He calls the elections in the Philippines a “generational election” and believes the outcome will significantly change the course of the country’s future. (GP Mendoza/CBC)

“It will be the fate of the Philippines,” he said. “I would be so ashamed, everyone will see how Filipinos accepted and voted for a thief.”

Youth mobilization

For some young Filipino Canadians, misinformation is also a significant issue in elections.

Aubrey Clarito of Richmond, British Columbia, is a first-time voter and says she sees a lot of “fake news” about candidates online. She believes that younger Filipinos, more exposed to technology and social media, are better equipped to filter out misinformation.

There was a deluge in the final weeks of the campaign, with much of it favoring Ferdinand Marcos Jr., according to local media.

Clarito, a Robredo supporter, has followed the campaign closely and says she’s been buoyed by the mobilization of young people across the country in recent weeks.

She thinks younger voters will be less susceptible to what election analysts call “authoritarian nostalgia” or claims about a “golden age” of the Philippines during Marcos Sr.’s years in power when they vote.

Polling stations will open in the Philippines on May 9 and counting will begin as soon as the polls close.

A winner could be apparent within hours.

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