SINGAPORE — Perched at the cashier’s desk in MJ’s Pinoy Shop in Singapore’s Lucky Plaza, Janice Estrera’s mind drifts back to her three children at home on Cebu island in the central Philippines, where they live with their grandparents. “I would really like to go back, it is suffering to be outside [the country],” the 34-year-old business graduate lamented. Estrera is part of the estimated 180,000-strong Filipino community in Singapore, just one of the many sizeable overseas communities of expatriates who left the Philippines to work and send remittances to family members at home. In Singapore, 83,276 Filipinos are registered to vote in the May 9 national elections, in which up to 55 million voters will elect a president, vice-president and local and national lawmakers. “We have set up air-conditioned tentages to accommodate our voters. We also provided a postal ballot system to encourage voters who are not able to go out to mail in their ballots,” said Victorio Mario M. Dimagiba Jr., minister and consul general at the Philippine embassy in Singapore. Of the estimated 10 million Filipinos living overseas, 1.3 million are registered to vote at selected embassies or by post.
MANILA — In his final State of the Nation speech as president of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino III declared that his government had curbed corruption, long deemed a barrier to foreign investment, and overseen growth in a country once derided as “the sick man of Asia.” “More than five years have passed since we put a stop to the culture of ‘wang-wang,’ not only [on] our streets, but in society at large,” Aquino said in July 2015. “Wang wang,” note James Robinson and Daron Acemoglu, co-authors of “Why Nations Fail,” a much-lauded book published in 2012, is a term “derived from the blaring sirens of politicians’ and elites’ cars urging common people to get out of the way,” and is used in the Philippines to refer to corruption. Aquino’s July 2015 speech echoed his first national address as president, five years earlier, in which he asserted: “Do you want the corrupt held accountable? So do I. Do you want to see the end of wang-wang, both on the streets and in the sense of entitlement that has led to the abuse that we have lived with for so long? ” Fighting corruption and building confidence in the country’s once-laggard economy have been key themes throughout Aquino’s term in office, which is now coming to a close with voters scheduled to elect a successor on May 9.
MANILA — In sweltering Southeast Asia’s buzzing and vibrant cities, when the temperature hits the mid-30s and the traffic is so clogged that streets sometimes seem more like car parks than freeways, there is always the mall. Such is the refuge of choice in Manila, where over 150 malls host coffee shops, cinemas, restaurants, shopping and sometimes gyms and even churches. They offer all the amenities and conveniences that are hard to find elsewhere — though churches are ubiquitous — in the vast, chaotic city. “Especially in Manila, we don’t have parks, we don’t have recreational areas, and it’s very hot outside, the malls are well-ventilated,” said Maria Isabel Cristina, who was meeting an old schoolfriend in Greenbelt, one Manila’s biggest mall complexes, located in Makati, the high-rise, high-end business and finance hub.
“Malls are where people often arrange to meet,” said Geraldine Monfort, a flight attendant who was having a coffee in the same location. Prompted by the convenience and popularity of such vast malls, the country’s election commission has announced that 86 malls across the 7,500 island archipelago will double up as voting centers for the May 9 presidential election, when 55 million Filipinos are eligible to vote.
BACOOR, Philippines — In a packed basketball arena in the province of Cavite, a half-hour’s drive south of the congested capital, Manila, Senator Grace Poe made her pitch to lead the Philippines as the country’s next president. “There is a long history of Cavitenos watching movies of my father and they remember that,” she said, referring to her famous adoptive father, the late film actor Ferdinand Poe, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004. Rather than featuring established, ideologically-driven political parties with slick campaign machines, Philippine elections are dominated by political dynasties, with a list of household names decorated with a smattering of celebrities, be they TV stars or sports icons such as world champion boxer Manny Pacquaio, who is running for a senate seat. Poe, with her cinema star father, has the background to match, and is not afraid to play it up in the quest for an edge in this close-run race.
TACLOBAN, LEYTE PROVINCE, THE PHILIPPINES –Dotted around the storm-wrecked city of Tacloban in the central Philippines are notices thanking not the government, the United Nations, or the Roman Catholic Church. They give gratitude to the Tzu Chi Foundation, a Taiwanese Buddhist charity that made its presence felt in the weeks after a devastating November typhoon. “Maraming Salamat Po [thank you very much] Tzu Chi Foundation,” reads one such cloth banner draped over a ruined shopfront on Tacloban’s smashed-up waterfront, a half mile or so from the town’s main Catholic church, Santo Niño. The Philippines’ 82 million Catholics comprise the third-biggest such population, behind Brazil and Mexico. It is a country known for public displays of devotion, taking in such elemental pageantry as annual voluntary and nonlethal crucifixions in memory of the death of Jesus.
SAN ISIDRO, LEYTE PROVINCE, PHILIPPINES – Early morning, about 5 am on November 8 last, Vilma Carson and her family braced under the kitchen table, praying rosaries as the wind outside whipped up to 200 miles an hour. It was to be a six hour ordeal that ripped the roof off their country home, which sits about a ten minute drive from the town of Palo in Leyte province. Despite the fearsome noise from the wind outside – and inside, once the roof was torn off – the schoolteacher listened for the beep of her phone, alerting her when husband George texted from Dubai, where he is one of the ten million plus Filipino emigrants working overseas. “He said to pray, so we hid under the table, but we were so frightened,” the mother recalls, now smiling, recalling the tribulation she shared with her two teenage daughters and 11 year old son.
PALO, LEYTE PROVINCE, Philippines — With tradesmen sawing and welding and hammering twenty feet up on scaffolding, and clattering rain pouring down through a gaping hole in the roof, it wasn’t a typical baptismal setting — especially one inside a cathedral. But on Christmas Eve in Palo, a town of around 60,000 people in the typhoon-hit central Philippines, 47 pairs of new parents formed a line from altar to door inside the wrecked Palo Cathedral, undaunted. Newborns nestled in their mothers’ arms for a Christmastime mass baptism into the Catholic Church — the majority faith in this archipelagic country of 105 million people. The joy of new life and the Christmas holiday comes on the heels of colossal tragedy, however, with Palo part of a region where at least 6,100 people were killed and 4 million left homeless by Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Typhoon Yolanda. The Nov. 8 tempest was by many accounts the most powerful storm ever recorded.
MANILA – In a landmark trial the Philippines chief justice was impeached yesterday, a major political score for President Benigno Aquino III’s anti-corruption campaign – an effort that officials feel is key to helping the Philippines emulate its neighbours economic growth Chief Justice Renato C. Corona was found guilty of failing to declare financial assets by more than 2/3 of the county’s senate, in a trial coming soon after the prosecution of Aquino’s predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, for corruption and election fraud. After Corona’s fall, how the case against former President Macapagal-Arroyo plays out could be key to altering perceptions that the Philippines is a messy place to do business. “Corruption has made investment uncertain and means companies don’t really know how safe the Philippines is to put their money,” said Mon Casiple, director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).