HONG KONG - Five members of opposition slate Otso Diretso approached groups of Filipino domestic workers along Chater Road here Sunday to woo support from an overseas Filipino workers' community that delivered President Rodrigo Duterte a landslide win in 2016.
There are nearly 200,000 Filipinos in Hong Kong, more than 87,000 of which are registered overseas absentee voters.
"Mas marami kang mararating dito na overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) natin. Balitang-balita dito na kapag Sabado at Linggo ay nagkakaroon ng isang malaking grupo ng OFWs," said Otso Diretso bet Romulo Macalintal.
(You could reach more OFWs here. On Saturdays and Sundays there's a large group of OFWs here.)
He was referring to droves of Filipino domestic workers who troop to Hong Kong's public spaces during weekends to hang-out with other Filipinos.
"This is a very important center for the OFW phenomenon. In many ways this is ground zero for many Filipinos hoping for a better life so it's a natural place for us to visit," former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay told ABS-CBN News.
Hong Kong boasts of having the second highest voter turnout in the 2016 presidential elections with 52,449 votes cast from this Chinese special administrative region, data from the Commission on Elections showed. It came next to the United Arab Emirates where 62,103 ballots were lodged.
"I feel Hong Kong is a very relevant [campaign] stop para maipakita namin 'yung pagpupugay sa lahat ng OFWs working worldwide. It's really about reaching out to the majority or malaking populasyon ng mga Pilipino that represents the voice and the face of the Filipino worldwide," opposition senatorial hopeful Samira Gutoc said.
The slate started their 2-day Hong Kong campaign Saturday with a press conference and a dialogue with a group of Filipino professionals based here.
The second leg began with a mass at the St. Joseph's Church at the heart of the island. They shook hands, took selfies and engaged in short banter with Filipinos in Central District before starting an "open rally" where Vice President Leni Robredo was a guest.
Actress Agot Isidro was tapped to host the Otso Diretso program here to help draw Filipino crowds toward senatorial candidates Jose Manuel "Chel" Diokno, Hilbay, Gutoc, Macalintal and Erin Tañada, all of whom are suffering from low voter awareness.
But efforts to woo voters in this city might "be just a waste of time" for opposition candidates as the island is already considered as President Duterte's bailiwick, an analyst said.
Some 34,000 Hong Kong-based Filipino absentee voters backed Duterte in the 2016 presidential elections, 6 times more than the 4,927 votes for Liberal Party standard-bearer Mar Roxas. The 61-year-old LP stalwart is also part of the opposition's 8-strong slate in this year's midterm polls.
Since assuming the presidency in 2016, Duterte and his family have been visiting Hong Kong at least once a year either for official functions or personal holidays.
"OFWs in Hong Kong have a close affinity now to the President. Not only to the President himself but to his family. Therefore, their minds now are, in a way, conditioned to favor the President, and those affiliated with the President," Ateneo Policy Center Senior Research Fellow Michael Henry Yusingco told ABS-CBN News.
"I think overseas Filipinos have already made up their minds even before the campaign period has begun. The wooing, 'yung panliligaw sa OFW, dapat that should happen even before the campaign period. If you reach out to them now, most likely they are just going to say why only now?" he said.
PERCEPTION AND FAKE NEWS
The challenge for Otso Diretso here is to disprove the perception that they are "out of touch with the masses," said Gilbert Legazpi, former chairman of non-profit social organization Philippine Association of Hong Kong.
"In 2016, people were fed up somehow of seeing itong mga dating nakaupo are seen as out of touch with the masses," Legazpi, who has been an OFW here for nearly 3 decades, told ABS-CBN News.
"Naka-relate sila kay Duterte with the way he talks [na] direct. Para sa kanila, mas bargas ka, mas masa ka. 'Yun ang pulso ng tao sa Hong Kong," he said.
(They can relate to Duterte, with the way he talks. For them, the blunter you are, the more you are part of the masses. That's the pulse here in Hong Kong.)
Candidates under the opposition banner should clarify issues and differentiate fact from fiction, Hong Kong-based professor James Rice said.
"They [OFWs] are entirely dependent on their Facebook timelines or their Facebook news feeds for their news. Facebook was used and weaponized to create a narrative and poison the other candidates in their minds and really kind of depicted Duterte as their savior," said Rice, citing findings from his 2018 in-depth study on Filipinos in Hong Kong.
"It's gonna be difficult [but] it's gonna be crucially important for them to be able to move the narrative on social media," he said.
UNFAZED BY DUTERTE MAGIC
All 5 candidates who flew here said they were unfazed by the Duterte magic among OFWs in Hong Kong.
"Hindi sagabal yun sa Halalan ngayon dahil iba naman 'yung 2016 sa 2019. Marami na rin na nangyari na kahit yung ibang dating sumuport sa pangulo ay nagdadalawang isip na din," Diokno said.
(It's not a problem in the elections now because 2016 is different from 2019. A lot has happened and even those who supported the President are now having second thoughts.)
"Hindi kami takot. Gusto naming makipag-usap, gusto naming magpakilala kahit alam natin na maraming supporters si Presidente Duterte dito," Hilbay said.
(We are not afraid. We want to talk to them, let them know who we are even if we know that President Duterte has a lot of supporters here.)
"Hindi kami nangangamba doon kasi popular siya pero hindi mo masasabi na it will be carried on sa kaniyang senatorial bets," Macalintal said.
(We are not worried that he's popular, you can't say it will be carried to his senatorial bets.)
"Gusto din naming patunayan sa mga OFWs dito na may sarili din kaming katangian na baka pag narinig nila ay maging isa ring dahilan para ma-convince namin sila na hindi lang naman mga tao ni Duterte ang qualified," he said.
(We want to prove to the OFWs here that we have our own qualities, and maybe if they hear us they can be convinced that it's not just Duterte's people who are qualified.)
The slate's lone female candidate hopes to win over female voters here.
"'Yung ibang OFWs naghahanap ng guidance kung bakit ganun si Presidente minsan, the way he speaks. Ito ba ang representation sa ating mga Pilipino? Baka puwede na through Otso Diretso, we can turn the image around na hindi masyadong brusko, brash," Gutoc said.
(OFWs are looking for guidance on why the President is like that sometimes, the way he speaks. Is this how Filipinos are supposed to be represented? Maybe through Otso Diretso, we can turn the image around to something not so brash.)
Winning the OFW vote is important as migrant workers - who are usually the breadwinners of their families back home - can sway their relatives in the Philippines, Tañada said.
The slate is eyeing the support of those who did not back Duterte in the 2016 polls, Otso Diretso campaign manager Sen. Francis Pangilinan earlier said.
"Going back to 2016, 61 percent of the voters did not vote for President Duterte, 39 percent did," Pangilinan said.
"That is our target market: the 61 percent, plus those who are disappointed with, na nagsisisi dahil sa kanilang naging ano [boto]
(who are now regretting their vote)," Pangilinan said.
"Malaking numero yan. Kailangan lang natin makumbinsi sila," he said.
(That's a big number. We hope to convince them.)
Touching base with the Filipino workers in Hong Kong and giving a "personal approach" may help the opposition ticket convince voters here, Legazpi said.
"It would be nice if they can talk to them directly. Nowadays, simple selfies would entice 'yung voters na, 'He's one with us,'" he said.
"I just hope it's not the whole reason for voting a person," he said.