Ukraine might be thousands of miles away from the Philippines but the brewing tensions there could create not just shock waves but a tremor that could shift political tectonic plates in an election year.

The world nervously watches as the United States starts relocating its embassy staff from the capital Kyiv to Lviv, a western city about 70 miles near Poland’s borders, predicting a Russian invasion after Moscow massed hundreds of thousands of troops at its eastern border. Washington said the invasion was imminent and the Kremlin might stage an incident to justify an action.

The situation in Ukraine is complex. It goes beyond energy resources and Kyiv’s desire to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which Moscow sees as a threat.

Normally, the very parochial Philippines does not involve itself in a crisis so distant from its shores beyond the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) issuing statements calling for sobriety and avoiding a conflict.

But the Philippine elections in May could force the major candidates for the highest position in the land to weigh in on the situation in Ukraine and bring the tense situation into public consciousness.

Suddenly, Ukraine has become an election-related foreign policy issue, like the maritime dispute in the West Philippine Sea or the generals’ power grab in Myanmar.

It is understandable why the maritime dispute in the South China Sea matters in the elections on May 9.

Hundreds of thousands of people in fishing communities from the Ilocos region down to the western seaboard and the central and southern Luzon provinces, including Mindoro and Palawan, are dependent on the fish catch from the South China Sea.

The local fishermen’s livelihood are at risk as territorial disputes heat up, amid China’s increasing presence and activities to assert its claims on the strategic waterway where $3 trillion of seaborne trade passes every year.

The South China Sea is also believed to have huge deposits of energy resources and rich fishing grounds. There are anecdotal stories that fishermen scooped fish with their hands in Scarborough Shoal, or Panatag Shoal, before China seized control in 2012.

Even ordinary Filipinos became affected by the dispute as prices of “galunggong” soared in public wet markets because the local fishermen were denied access to traditional fishing grounds, particularly in Scarborough Shoal.

Rodrigo Duterte tried repairing sour relations with Beijing but has been unsuccessful in putting a brake to China’s assertiveness in the disputed territory.

The power grab in resource-rich Myanmar has also impacted the Philippines because it created regional instability, as refugees began streaming out to neighboring states Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The minority Muslims, the Rohingyas, are also fleeing west to Bangladesh, some in boats, which reminded the region of the Indo-Chinese “boat people” after the Vietnam war in the 1970s.

Many of these Vietnamese, Lao, and Cambodian refugees were temporarily sheltered in Bataan and Palawan before they were relocated to western countries, like the United States and Canada.

Myanmar’s political crisis also threatens to divide the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which will meet this week to draw up the year’s agenda under Cambodia’s leadership as Asean chair.

There were reports the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore are holding a meeting before the Asean foreign ministers’ retreat as they opposed the participation of Myanmar until it complies with the 5-point consensus agreement done in April to restore normalcy in the Nay Pyi Taw. That means the generals have to free Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and hundreds of political prisoners and hand over power to the democratically elected civilian government.

These two Southeast Asian concerns — the South China Sea and Myanmar — will impact Philippine foreign policy especially after the May elections. These can move Manila closer to Beijing if the pro-China Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr wins, and can swing it back to the West if other candidates — Maria Leonor Robredo, Francisco Domagoso, Panfilo Lacson and Emmanuel Paquiao — prevail in the balloting.

But why would a distant political crisis affect the elections? There are more than 380 reasons why Ukraine is on the plate. There are nearly 400 Filipino citizens working and living in Ukraine, mostly around Kyiv, but some have fled to a relatively safer place in the western city of Lviv, about 500 kms from the capital.

Most Filipinos in Ukraine are professionals, including teachers. But there are also domestic helpers. They sent home precious dollars, part of the nearly $30 billion in remittances sent by overseas workers every year or about 10 percent of the country’s GDP.

Most Filipinos working abroad are in the Middle East, Singapore, Hong Kong, and western European countries, including Great Britain. But even if there are a few Filipinos in eastern Europe and elsewhere, the safety and welfare of these overseas workers are still important.

One of three pillars of Philippine foreign policy, contained in the 1991 Foreign Service Act, has been the protection of the rights, welfare, and interests of overseas Filipinos. The other two pillars focus on national security and economic interests.

No wonder some candidates have started talking about the welfare and safety of Filipino workers in Ukraine. Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson was among the first presidential candidates to speak about the need to prepare to evacuate Filipinos in Ukraine in case Russian troops cross the border from Belarus or from Russia.

Sorsogon Gov. Francis Escudero, who is seeking a seat in the Senate, has also called on the Department of Foreign Affairs to prepare repatriation flights. Only eight Filipinos have expressed willingness to return home due to the tensions, but the majority wanted to remain because there would be no work available for them if they returned home.

Vice President Leonor Robredo also spoke about the situation in Ukraine when she was asked about it during a forum sponsored by radio station DZRH and newspaper The Manila Times early this month.

She was concerned about the safety and welfare of Filipinos in Ukraine and would take a neutral stand on the conflict, refusing to side with either the United States or Russia.

There is no Philippine embassy to take care of Filipinos in Ukraine. But there is an honorary consulate and other missions around Ukraine, like the embassy in Poland which has jurisdiction over the eastern European country.

It is a must for presidential candidates to show concern for Filipinos in Ukraine in an election year. In 2016, Duterte won the presidency on the strength of overseas Filipinos’ support. That has been the template for presidential candidates moving forward.

There are about 10 million Filipinos living abroad and only a small percentage actually cast their votes during elections, but the overseas workers have greater influence over their families and relatives back home because they are the breadwinners. They can dictate to their families and relatives whom to vote for in the elections. There is a multiplier effect.

In the last five years, Duterte’s social media influencers have been courting the support of overseas workers, recognizing their role in Philippine elections.

The political battle is in the Philippines but the small number of overseas workers in Ukraine could be a game changer in the May elections.