Philippine Election: Voices of Filipino islanders

Ivatan natives from the northern island province of Batanes weigh in on the May 9 presidential race.

    Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines with a population of about 16,000 [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]
    Batanes is the smallest province in the Philippines with a population of about 16,000 [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    Basco, Philippines - Around 55 million registered voters will head to the presidential polls in the Philippines on May 9.

    It is one of the most contentious presidential races in the country in decades.

    Frontrunner Rodrigo Duterte, a mayor from the southern island of Mindanao, is facing allegations of human rights abuses and hidden wealth.

    Despite the country's economic gains, Duterte has managed to tap into a wave of frustration towards the current system of governance.

    Through brash talk and populist appeal, Duterte promises to hunt down drug syndicates and clean up the corrupted Philippine bureaucracy. 

    One prominent Filipino columnist branded his rhetoric as "Dutertismo", comparing it to the rise of Nazism and Fascism in Europe in the early 20th century. 

    Duterte's strongest challenger is Grace Poe, a freshman senator who is weighed down by questions about her previous US citizenship.

    Another candidate Manuel Roxas II, a former senator backed by current President Benigno Aquino, is battling anti-establishment sentiment, while Jejomar Binay, the current vice president, is facing corruption allegations.

    Senator Miriam Santiago, a fifth candidate, barely registers in the polls.   

    In Batanes, the smallest and least populated province in the country, Ivatan voters are keenly following the political fever despite the fact that the island is in the country's northernmost tip - poles apart from the capital Manila.

    Voices of the Ivatans

    Grandma Emilia says she is unable to vote because her eyes are failing [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    You can call me Grandma Emilia. I was born and raised in Chavayan, one of the six villages on the island of Sabtang. 

    This island-town is one of the only three populated isles in the entire Batanes province. I'm 81 and have always lived on this island. We're quite  far from the rest of the Philippines and we don't get much attention from our leaders in Manila.

    This headgear I am wearing is called a vakul and is made from date palm leaves. I've been working as a hat weaver for many years.

    Now, my eyes are failing me and I am afraid I won't be able to vote on May 9 because I can't read the ballot papers any more.

    Rosalinda Homigop earns a living selling food items to tourists in Chavayan [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    My name is Rosalinda Homigop. I am 40 years old, married and mother of six.

    I'm also a native of Chavayan village. I am a businesswoman and sell food items to locals and visitors in our village. I make native rice cakes topped with sweetened, grated coconut which tourists love.

    Every morning, I also make coconut candies which I sell for 25 cents each. These young coconuts are also popular among tourists. I believe in hard work and self-sufficiency. If you are diligent, you can look after your family.

    I don't really rely on the government for help. But if there's anything the government can do, I hope it can finally set up a mobile phone tower in our village. They promised to do it in the last election and are yet to deliver on that promise.

    I've seen some progress in our village but I'm voting for opposition candidate Senator Grace Poe because I think she can bring change to our country.

    Pedro Gari earn about $17 a day transporting tourists around the island of Sabtang in Batanes [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    I'm Pedro Gari, 39 and a motorcyle-cab driver. I'm married and have two young children. I earn about $17 daily transporting tourists around Sabtang where I was born and raised.

    We don't really get to appreciate much of the beauty of our own land because it looks very familiar to us. But I'm glad to show tourists around. During the slow season, we don't get many tourists. The waves are too high for visitors to cross from the main island.

    To supplement my income, I till our farm, planting root crops while raising livestock. We get battered by typhoons six to seven times a year and help from the government is hard to come by. Our town is a peaceful place but I hear in the news that other parts of the country are plagued with crime.

    I'm voting for Rodrigo Duterte because I think he can bring some discipline to our country. I only managed to finish high school because college education is not offered on our island of 1,400 people.

    I hope the new president can bring some progress to this country and give more opportunities to my children.

    Cherry Gail Velayo owns a small souvenir shop on the island of Sabtang [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    My name is Cherry Gail Velayo. I'm 29 years old, married and a mother of two. My first-born is five years old and my second child is two. Me and my husband are expecting our third child later this year.

    I'm from the Batanes island of Itbayat. But there are more tourists here in Sabtang and I earn more here selling souvenirs. There has been some progress in the last six years since President Benigno Aquino took office.

    But I am voting for opposition candidate Senator Grace Poe. I think she can better represent me as the leader of our country.

    Will Gabotero, 46, is a retired teacher and has sent his three children to college [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    My name is Will Gabotero. I'm 46, married and have three children. My kids have graduated from college so I retired as a public school teacher and just concentrate on farming and fishing.

    Two of my children are now based in Europe working as nurses. I just returned from Finland where  I went to visit them. Our third child is a marine engineer.

    There's been a lot of progress in our province and I thank President Aquino for that. If you look around, our roads have improved, our hospital is also getting some funding for renovation.

    I want this progress to continue so I am supporting Senator Mar Roxas, who is being endorsed by the president.

    Emmie Ponce is a staff member at a local inn and is married to a Batanes native [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    I'm Emmie Ponce, 40 years old and originally from the southern Philippine province of Surigao.

    Native Ivatans call me an Ipula, their term for immigrants in Batanes. But I am married to an Ivatan.

    For the past 14 years, I have been working as a staff at a local inn that mostly caters to tourists. I love my job and I love entertaining visitors in Batanes. It is a very quiet and peaceful place and I would never trade this place for another, even though we are very far from the rest of the country.

    I am from Mindanao so I am supporting our very own Rodrigo Duterte.

    Siony Misador, 62, is a Batanes native but has lived in Manila since she was 16 [Ted Regencia/Al Jazeera]

    My name is Siony Misador. I'm 62 years old and been living in Manila most of my life.

    I left Batanes when I was 16 but I still call it home. I remember when, at 6pm, the entire town was quiet and had gone to sleep. We used to go to picnics on Sundays. I used to dread Saturdays because all of us were told by our parents to work in the field, planting root crops and vegetables.

    We could not plant rice on the island so we only have it on special occasions. We also did not have electricity then so during the summer, it was very hot and humid. During the Holy Week, us Catholics were all required to go to church, pray and stay quiet.

    Our only medium of communication was the radio. Those were happy times for us and everyone knew everyone.

    I am voting for Grace Poe because we need change in the country.

    Follow Ted Regencia on Twitter: @tedregencia

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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