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Filipinos in Kuwait earnestly watch last presidential debate – Frontrunner Duterte promises to create separate ministry for OFWs

KUWAIT: Barely two weeks before presidential elections in the Philippines which is set to be held on May 9, Filipinos in Kuwait watched the last of three scheduled presidential debates organized by the Philippines Commission on Elections (Comelec). The debate, which was simulcast worldwide via TFC and Internet livestreaming, concluded with a clearer stance on many issues including criminality, economy, the rebellion in Mindanao, education, traffic congestions, etc.

Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who are based in Kuwait anxiously awaited candidates to address the issues of OFWs. “I want to vote for a candidate that will finally show us the way. We want to have better opportunities in my home country – we need jobs, we need business opportunities, we need to improve peace and order. Maybe I will finally go home and stay there for good,” said Premitivo Aguilar, a Filipino artist based in Kuwait who has been working abroad for the last 20 years.

10 million
There are about 10 million Filipinos abroad and 1.3 million of them are eligible to vote in this year’s election. Voting by OFWs started on April 9 and will end on the day of election in Manila (May 9). Frontrunner and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte promised to create another department (ministry) for OFWs to look after the welfare of all Filipinos abroad. He also promised to create a bank that will serve as the central remittance office for all OFWs and place them where OFWs are located, and implement mandatory monitoring of all Filipinos abroad.

“The first sign of abuse against OFWs must be responded promptly and they will be sent home. They must receive mandatory repatriation and the government will undertake all costs so they can go back free of charge,” Duterte said. “Whoever wants to go home, the government must have the legal aid to help them; every consular section must look after the welfare of every Filipino wherever they are in the world,” he added.

Administration candidate Mar Roxas said he would focus more on strengthening the country’s economy so as to convince OFWs to stay home. “If the economy is strong, which is continuously growing now, we can create more job opportunities, and if any OFWs wants to go home for good, they can with all the opportunities created. We want OFWs to come home so you can be with your families – we care for families because they are the center of our society,” he said.

New heroes
Grace Poe, another presidential contender, sees OFWs as the new heroes of the nation and its families. She expressed her gratitude to all OFWs who are continuously helping save the country’s economy for many decades now. “Your contribution to the country’s economy is really unmatched. So I propose to implement a universal healthcare system for OFWs. A health card will be provided for OFWs and we will talk to every country where you are staying to honor that card because the government will fund it. We will talk to every country bilaterally to protect you and your interests. We will talk to Saudi Arabia and tell them that we do not want its kafala (sponsorship) system; but foremost, I want to prepare the economy here in the Philippines so that if ever you want to go back home, we are ready,” she said.

For Miriam Defensor Santiago, she would like to see that going abroad is a matter of choice and not a necessity. “A stronger economy must be accomplished. While we are still in this present status, a legal assistance fund is very important for OFWs. Filipinos must have a hotline to DOLE or OWWA, so they can ask for help if necessary directly. Our consul general should be ready at all times when they are in trouble,” she said. Santiago is also hoping for an immediate implementation of the regional plan of the 10-member Asian countries to open their countries economically to all member states. “Once the 10 economies of 10 member countries open, it will create more jobs,” she added.

Pension program
Vice President Jejomar Binay promised a pension program for all OFWs. “I would also like to propose a roadmap for OFWs to create a plan on what to achieve after years of working and staying abroad,” he said.
The last presidential debate took place in the province of Pangasinan, the third richest voting population in the country. In the latest presidential survey, Duterte widened his lead in a poll ahead of the May 9 elections. Duterte, who is from southern Philippines’ Davao city, led with 34 percent, followed by Poe with 22 percent, Binay at 19 percent and Roxas at 18 percent amongst the top contenders in the survey.

By Ben Garcia

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