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How Dutch-Filipinos in The Netherlands Vote

Filipinos in Netherlands vote spread among different parties

If a small caucus group is an indication, Filipinos in the Netherlands do not vote for a single party or parties with almost the same ideologies. The votes of Filipinos here are as diverse as the population’s choice.

During the national Dutch elections last March 17, Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s center-right party VVD (Freedom for Democracy) again gained the most number of seats in parliament. There are 150 seats available and the biggest party has the right to form a coalition and elect a prime minister.

The center-left D66 came second and the extreme right and anti-immigrant party PVV (Freedom Party) became third, losing its seat as the second most popular party. The left-leaning parties suffered a setback while small right-wing and pro-Europe parties gained traction. There is no formal survey on how the Filipino-Dutch vote in this year’s most important elections amid COVID19 lockdown and stricter measures. However, during an informal zoom session about Dutch politics organized by the University of the Philippines Alumni Association (UPAA)-Netherlands Chapter, it was revealed that many Filipinos who vote do not stay in one party. Usually they hop from one party to another every election depending on the platforms that mostly resonate with their ideologies and current situation.

Women-led parties

For example, Filipino Community leader Diana Oosterbeek-Latoza, founder of Bayanihan Foundation (Center for Filipino Women in the Netherlands). She is not a member of any political party so her vote changes.

“Ako I’m a socialist. Lima kami sa family iba-iba ang party. (I’m a socialist. The five of us in the family have different parties.) I am really for women so I really voted for a woman. It is very important to have gender equality, first in politics… But I am not loyal to any political party. Every time there is an election, I check the platforms, I check the leader,” she said.

This time, Oosterbeek-Latoza voted for the social democratic PvdA, the labor party, where the new leader is former minister for foreign trade and development Lilianne Ploumen.  According to her,  she knows Ploumen from her early days as the director of Mama Cash, a NGO that provides assistance to women organizations. Ploumen was also responsible in putting up an international fund called She Decides that collected more than 260 million euro to offset Donald Trump’s funding ban on abortion services overseas in 2017. 

Another Filipino, Maya Echaves-Butalid shares Oosterbeek-Latoza’s view on more women participation in politics.

“Kaya actually mayroon ding mga movement ngayon na vote for a woman kasi sa totoo lang, about only 1/3 ang members ng parliament ay women,” she said.

(There is a movement now to vote for a woman because the truth is only 1/3 of the members of parliament are women.)

Butalid is the only known Filipino in the Netherlands who had a successful career in local politics. She has been a member of PvdA for decades and was a local councillor for the city of Tilburg from 2003 to 2010f where held the portfolio on women, migration, and social integration. She sits on the board of the feminist wing of the local PvdA and working for the Council of Refugees.

Meanwhile, Charisse Wieldraaijer-Gabayeran, a member of the UPAA-NL, said she supported the center-left D66 party for its liberal immigration policies.

“I am stoked that D66 got a big spot in parliament not only because it is a woman-led party, but also their immigration policies acknowledge the contribution of skilled migrant workers to the society. They lobby for equal opportunities which is important especially for a female colored migrant like me,” she reasoned.

Wieldraaijer-Gabayeran added the party also has a scientific and realistic approach to climate change, and concrete suggestions for improving the educational system.

Meanwhile, Mingo Tomas who has been in the Netherlands for more than 30 years and whose background is economy, has also always voted the liberal center-right VVD, the leading party.

“The party has always been good to me and to my family…Especially now during COVID, the measures that the VVD or the coalition has implemented I feel are good, safe for the citizens of the Netherlands,” she said, adding that parties that take the extreme left or right ideologies do not appeal to her.

Her party of choice, according to her, is very realistic where it promises things it can deliver and not those extremely unattainable.

A stripped-off billboard of FvD party. Many immigrant groups like the Filipino diaspora believe that extreme-left parties that are anti-immigrant should not be supported. PHOTO: JOFELLE TESORIO

Grassroots activism

In a separate interview, Filipino-Dutch transgender and rights activist Kaye Candaza said the mainstream parties have lost their focus on the needs of the ordinary people. She campaigned for Bij1, a grassroots party that began in Amsterdam.

“Kaya nga sinusuportahan ko iyong Bij1 kasi iyong foundation ng political party na ito ay more on grassroots activism, which is iba doon sa well-funded political parties dito sa Holland…Karamihan sa mga kandidato na nag re-representa sa partido ay mga kaibigan ko rin. Ito ay mga inter-sectional feminists, mga migrante, Dutch people of migrant background na kung saan kasama sa aktibismo nila ang mga karapatan ng mga migrante, mga undocumented kasama doon, social housing, homelessness, extreme inequality,” she said.

(That’s why I am supporting Bij1 because the foundation of this political party is more on grassroots activism which is different from well-funded political parties in the Netherlands. Most of the candidates from this party are my friends. They are the inter-sectional feminists, migrants, Dutch of migrant background. Part of their activism are migrants rights, which include the undocumented, social housing, homelessness and inequality.)

Candaza’s activism did not go to waste. For the first time, Bij1 will get one seat in parliament and the party’s leader is woman of color and immigrant background.

A polling station sign that says ‘vote here’. PHOTO: JOFELLE TESORIO

Fielding Filipinos in Dutch politics

While politically active Filipinos have made known of their choices, there are still a group of Filipinos who are not engaged in Dutch politics. Except for UPAA-NL that organized an informal chat on local politics and other Filipino migrants’ rights organizations who constantly engage the government, most local Filipino groups are silent.

The former local councillor Butalid said there should be an active engagement. It is believed that a number of Filipinos, who are usually married to Dutch, vote according to their partners’ choice.

“Marami sa atin married to Dutch. Iyon ang na no-notice ko.  If they vote, they vote kung ano iyong binoboto ng asawa nila kasi of course for lack of information. It is important to continue this kind of thing. Hindi lang kung malapit na ang election or when the campaign period starts para may time pa rin to gather information,” she observed.

(Many of us are married to the Dutch. I notice that if they vote, they vote for the choice of their husbands maybe because of lack of information. It is important to continue talking, not just when an election is coming but during the campaign period so there is enough time to gather information.)  

This also led to the discussion whether the Filipinos should enter Dutch politics, especially now that the anti-immigrant sentiment is getting louder in The Netherlands.

“I think we are now becoming a big group. I think it is also a high time for a candidate in our group to be part of the political environment so that our voices will be heard. Although I haven’t felt any difficulty living here in the Netherlands, perhaps our fellow countrymen have difficulties and I think as Filipinos, we should try to help them,” said VVD voter Mingo Tomas.

Meanwhile, women rights advocate Oosterbeek-Latoza said it is her dream to see a Filipino woman in parliament in the near future.

But the problem lies not only in participation but in the language. A politician must have exceptional debating skills in native-level Dutch. For the former councillor Butalid, she took a vow when she arrived in the Netherlands three decades ago to master the language. That became handy when she entered politics. 

Another problem is how cohesive the Filipino community when it comes to fielding its own candidate. The Turkish community has done it and groups from former Dutch colonies have already tried.

The Filipinos might still have a long way to elect someone from its own rank in the Dutch parliament but it is not a wishful thinking if the work begins as early as now.