A long way for a vote: Philippine presidential candidate Mar Roxas visits Hong Kong ahead of island nation’s election

Election frenzy gripped downtown Hong Kong yesterday as a candidate to lead the Philippines visited a centre of the local Philippine community ahead of month-long overseas voting that begins Saturday.

It was the first time a presidential candidate from the island nation officially took a campaign overseas, highlighting the status of Hong Kong where the population of Philippine expatriates has risen from about 130,000 during the 2010 presidential election to about 170,000 at present, mostly comprising foreign domestic workers.

Manuel “Mar” Roxas and his vice-presidential candidate Leni Robredo took a long-distance detour from their tight campaign schedule in the Philippines for a nine-hour visit in the city.

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Cheers echoed in the canyon of office skyscrapers near Chater Garden and Statue Square in Central, a popular gathering place for Philippine domestic workers on their days off.

Crowds of Filipinos jostled for position to take selfies and greet Roxas, clad in yellow, as he threaded through a sea of supporters.

Jo Campos, a domestic worker who has worked in the city for about 30 years, said she planned to vote for Roxas. “He is the only candidate who makes believable promises,” she said.

At a private gathering with representatives of Hong Kong-based Filipino groups, Roxas said he was concerned about the well-being of Filipinos working abroad and pledged to improve their lives.

“If I am elected, there will be continuity of the progress that has been made,” he said.

Roxas, a grandson of a former president, is the preferred successor of outgoing president Benigno Aquino. The candidate has emphasised continuity of Aquino’s successes in his campaign.

Since Aquino came to power in 2010, the Philippines has shed its “sick man of Asia” label on the strength of an anti-corruption campaign and improved governance. Between 2010 and 2014, the nation’s economy grew 6.3 per cent on average, and last year it grew 5.8 per cent.

Close to 1.4 million Filipinos residing abroad have registered as overseas absentee voters for the 2016 national elections. They will join the about 54 million voters in the country to elect the next president and other office holders on May 9.

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