Long lines greet Filipinos abroad as registration for overseas voters ends

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(From L to R): Photos of overseas voter registration lines in Riyadh, Seoul, and Dubai

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 15) — Overseas workers and other Filipinos living abroad had to endure long lines as they scrambled to register to vote in the May 9, 2022 presidential and local elections.

The Commission on Elections gave them until Thursday, October 14 to register at Philippine embassies and consulates to cast their ballots there – a two-week extension from the September 30 deadline.

Like in Manila, Philippine foreign service posts were overwhelmed with long lines of last-minute registrants as people hoped to beat the deadline in their respective time zones.

Long, winding lines

It took Ryan Celis, who had just moved to South Korea in September, two tries to sign up as a voter there.

His first attempt on a Sunday saw hundreds of people outside the post in Seoul, which was one hour away from his work in Incheon. In local distance, he compared it to Laguna and Manila.

The only foreign service post in South Korea is in Itaewon, a neighborhood with uphill streets. Celis said an entire stretch was filled with hundreds of Filipinos waiting outside the embassy.

“The line was not moving when we went there and it was so long,” Celis told CNN Philippines, saying they didn’t even get inside the embassy compound after spending almost five hours in line on Sept. 26 – supposedly the last weekend prior to the original deadline. "I don’t want to give up, but it’s futile to wait."

He took a gamble and tried again, taking a leave from his job for a second attempt on a weekday. By then, he finished the process in just 20 minutes.

“It makes me feel at home knowing you’re doing something for your country,” Celis added.

Extended hours

Embassies opened for extended hours to accommodate more people. Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon said the Philippine consulate in Hong Kong stayed open until 3 a.m. to accommodate those in line.

Some forgot social distancing.

Jessa Bartolabac, who’s been working for a communications agency in Hong Kong for two years now, said she endured a relatively shorter process when she registered at the consul general’s office a month ago. It took her 1.5 hours to sign up as an absentee voter.

“In 2016, I remember feeling so desperate when it was a tight race between BBM (former Sen. Bongbong Marcos) and Leni (Robredo) for Vice President,” she recounted. “I voted then but I knew people who were for Leni but didn't vote and the gap was around 100,000. That's when I knew every single vote mattered.”

One aspiring voter in Dubai braved waiting in line from 4 p.m. until 1 a.m. on the second to the last day of registration.

Sa totoo lang, ito na ‘yung pinakamahabang pinilahan ko sa buong buhay ko [Honestly, this is the longest line I’ve ever endured in my entire life],” said Bons Genove, a travel consultant who’s been in the United Arab Emirates for 12 years now.

Gusto ko lang talaga i-express ‘yung freedom ko bilang mamamayang Pilipino… Iba pa rin ‘yung feeling na kapag bumoto ka [I just really want to express my freedom as a Filipino citizen… It feels different when you contributed by voting]," he added, saying he was there for voter reactivation.

Genove said he did not even have time to sleep, having come from work when he went to the consular general’s office which was an hour away from where they are based – similar to the distance between Bulacan and Manila. He and fellow Filipinos waiting for their turn ordered food and ate while keeping their place in line.

Also based in Dubai, accountant Cristina Contreras waited four hours to complete her registration. She went to the consulate a day before Genove did, which was a 1.5-hour commute from where she is staying.

"Nagparehistro po ako rito [I registered here] because I want to exercise my right to vote for a good governance. In case po na hindi makauwi [I can't fly home] before May 9 elections because of pandemic, at least I can do it here," Contreras said. "Every vote counts; I will not waste it."

Diana Quiño's experience in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was relatively better, taking about two hours on her day off. She said others who came after her spent the entire day waiting.

Determined to choose

Latest Comelec data show some 1.6 million Filipinos have registered as overseas voters for next year's polls. They will either vote in person at consular offices or send their ballots via snail mail.

It's one huge sacrifice.

To register, many have to travel from their workplaces to embassies and back and retrieve their passport from employers to be presented as their valid ID. Some have to take a day off just to complete the process, which to some meant no pay.

However, that's nothing compared to their strong desire to choose the country's next set of leaders.

Siyempre may gusto rin kaming mga kandidato sa ngayon, so sayang din kasi 'yung mga boto namin [Of course, we have a candidate in mind for now so we want to exercise our right to vote],” Quiño said.

“Having the possibility to elect the right woman is worth every long line,” added Celis. “I really want to go back sa Pilipinas – ang saya kaya nung feeling na maayos ‘yung gobyernong babalikan mo [I think it’s very fulfilling to go back home to a decent government].”

Although out of the country, these Filipinos know that their choices matter.

RELATED: Trial online voting results 'promising’ despite connectivity issues - Comelec

Comelec spokesman James Jimenez explained the poll body cannot extend the same Oct. 30 deadline for overseas voter registrants as preparations follow a “much tighter timetable.” He pointed out that overseas voting starts 30 days before the May 9, 2022 elections in the Philippines.