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Day 9’s oldest voter casts ballot in HK - for the last time

23 April 2019

By Vir B. Lumicao
Image may contain: 1 person, outdoor
Martinez has been voting in Hong Kong since overseas election for Filipinos was introduced in 2004

Josefina Martinez sat patiently on a chair at the head of the queue, as election supervisors replaced a ballot box that had reached its 1,000-ballot limit in her precinct on the fifth floor of Bayanihan Centre.

She had limped her way up to the room on Day 9 of the month-long election just to cast her vote, and waited patiently for about 20 more minutes while a new ballot box was put in place.

Martinez, 74, told The SUN she had been coming to Bayanihan to vote since overseas voting for Filipinos began in 2004.
“Manual kami noon.. kay Gloria pa iyon,” she said, harking back to the election of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, when the vote-counting machine was still on Comelec’s blueprint.

Asked why she did not ask to vote at the secretariat on the third floor, where disabled or elderly voters could have their ballots brought to them by an election inspector, she said, “Mahirap sa ibaba eh, baka palitan.”
Image may contain: 1 person, standing
Voting in Hong Kong for the last time

With her bearing, she could be mistaken for a long-time Hong Kong resident, but she humbly replied, “katulad din nila, ng marami rito” when asked if she were one.

Martinez has served only one employer for the past 38 years. She still remembers that when she arrived in Hong Kong in 1983, there were only a small number of Filipino domestic workers around
According to her, the next dominant group after the Filipinos were the Thais, but they eventually left because they preferred entrepreneurship. They were replaced by Indonesians, she said.

“Di sila (Thai) pareho ng Indonesian, parang Pilipino rin na happy na sa kaunting kita,” she said.

Soon after arriving here, Martinez became an active member and vice president of Balikatan sa Kaunlaran Hong Kong Council, one of the first community groups to organize livelihood training for Filipino migrant workers.
“Wala pang mga financial literacy noon, ang advocacy namin noon ay livelihood at entrepreneurship,” Martinez said. The idea, she said, was to help migrant workers set up a business so they will have a source of income when they return home.

As a result of her entrepreneurship training, she said she and her husband got into various business ventures, from taxi and fishing boat operation, to raising fighting cocks for sale, and operating a sari-sari store.
Unfortunately she said not one of those businesses worked. 

“Lahat ng (aming) kinita, inilagay sa puhunan, (pero) parang walang naipanalo eh, puro bagsak lahat ang mga negosyo namin. Siguro mismanaged,” Martinez said.

But through hard work and diligence, the elderly woman was able to send all of her three children through university. Now she’s helping pay for her only grandchild’s schooling.

On this particular Easter Sunday, Martinez was accompanied to Bayanihan by her daughter and grandson, but they had to wait on the ground floor of the building while the elderly woman struggled to go up to her designated precinct and exercise her right to vote.

Despite her obvious difficulty in moving around, Martinez says she still travels everyday by bus to her employer’s house in Homantin, Kowloon.

“Kasi live out ako eh, kaya may bahay ako sa New Territories,” she said.

Martinez, who has been on live-out arrangement since 1987, was one of those who got to retain this right despite an immigration policy passed in 2003 that banned the practice.

She wants the live-out ban scrapped not just because many helpers are forced to live with their employers in cramped Hong Kong flats, but also because she wants them to be free from being on call 24 hours a day. 

“Kapag live-out ka, pagbaba mo sa bahay ng amo, sarili mo na ang oras mo,” she said.

As a member of the militant United Filipinos in Hong Kong, she has joined rallies calling on the Hong Kong government to make living out optional. But she admitted that is a long shot.

“Hindi payag ang maraming employer dahil ayaw nilang magbayad ng upa para sa katulong at ng pamasahe niya,” Martinez said.

She counts herself lucky that her local Chinese employers have been good to her that they still sign her contract every two years despite her age, and allow her to continue living on her own. But that will soon end, as she plans to go home for good in October next year.
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