Even though the Philippines is over 12,000 kilometres away, many members of Manitoba's Filipino community are still very much engaged in the upcoming Philippines presidential election.
Among the candidates in the May 9 election are Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the son of former dictator Ferdinand Marcos, current vice-president Leni Robredo and retired boxing legend Manny Pacquiao, who is now a senator.
At rallies held in Winnipeg over the last two weeks, hundreds of people came out to show support for their preferred candidate.
More rallies are planned for other presidential candidates, including one for Marcos this coming weekend.
Dante Aviso organized a rally in support of Robredo held in Winnipeg last weekend.
Aviso, a dual citizen of Canada and the Philippines, says being able to vote in the election is important. He says relatives and friends in the Philippines are suffering because of terrible economic conditions.
"The Philippines has been beset by all these calamities — the pandemic, the high unemployment rate, the level of lawlessness and the criminality," he said.
He isn't happy with the current state of political affairs under President Rodrigo Duterte, and says the Philippines can't afford any more corruption.
Robredo, he says, is the "only hope and the only true leader who can help and uplift as the Filipino people."
Duterte, known for his deadly anti-drugs crackdown, brash rhetoric and unorthodox political style, can't run for another term under the country's constitution.
Looking for concrete plans
According to the Philippine consulate general of Toronto, there are just over 139,000 people in Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan who are registered to vote in the election.
Mail-in ballots for the May 9 presidential and vice-presidential elections were sent out to Philippines citizens living abroad during the second week of April, according to the embassy of the Philippines in Ottawa. They need to be received by the consulate general in Toronto by May 9 in order to be considered an eligible vote.
Orlando Marcelino, the former Philippine consulate general of Winnipeg, isn't eligible to vote in the election. He came to Winnipeg in 1982 and is now a Canadian citizen.
But he knows first-hand how conditions back in the Philippines affect immigrants and overseas Filipino workers here in Manitoba.
Family members in Canada often send money to their relatives in the Philippines. Marcelino said because much of the population of the Philippines is living in squalor, they need the help.
But it comes at a cost — families have less income to support themselves in Canada.
"What happens to you now? You don't have any savings for your retirement. That's the connection," said Marcelino.
Marcelino said elections bring hope to the Filipino community. Even though people have differences in who they're supporting, it seems the community wants the same thing — an honest leader who will work to improve the country's conditions for its impoverished population, he says.
His wife, Flor — who was an NDP member of the Manitoba legislative assembly from 2007 to 2019 — says this particular election is different. The country has gone through several natural calamities on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, and it needs more from its leadership to bring the country to better times, she says.
"People are really hoping that there's someone who could provide hope, assurance, as well as concrete plans to alleviate the situation of the people."
'People are now awake,' says international student
International student Leonilo Santiago III says he hopes the new president will fix corruption in Filpino politics.
"The common denominator that I feel like [we're] looking for [in a new leader] is the strength. Because we are in hard times," said Santiago, who is studying at Red River College in Winnipeg.
He hoped to vote but didn't register in time, since his plans to study in Winnipeg hadn't been finalized by the time registration for overseas voting ended in September.
Even though he can't vote, he's following the election closely and speaking to his friends and family back in the Philippines about it.
"I think it's great that Filipinos [living in Canada] still exercise their right to vote. It is our civic duty," he said.
Santiago has seen a change in the attitudes of Filipinos toward politics. This election feels different — more people are paying attention, he says.
"I feel like in this case, people are talking about the election not just because they have friends and family there, but also because they care for Filipinos in general."
Santiago believes the struggles everyone faced during the pandemic made people more empathetic and aware of the well-being of others.
"We hear [about people suffering] all the time. People are now awake."
WATCH | Manitobans rally for candidates in Philippines presidential election: