Growing Political Activism

Filipino American Leadership Conference Tampa
GREG MACABENTA
Reminiscent of the latter years of the Marcos dictatorship, Filipinos in America are becoming more concerned over Philippine political affairs, particularly the 2010 presidential elections.

More and more are reacquiring their Philippine citizenship, a privilege granted by the dual citizenship law, and those who are not yet US citizens are registering as overseas absentee voters. I myself was among the first batch who became dual citizens, the same day the law became operative. I have voted in Philippine elections since then, aside from voting in the US polls.

Whether enough of us will have qualified to vote in the presidential contest next year to make an impact on the desperate effort to replace Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her gang, remains to be seen. But there is reason to believe that this will happen.

New York lawyer Merit Salud put it bluntly at a meeting of FilAm community leaders in Tampa, Florida this last weekend: “We can no longer ignore what is happening in the Philippines. If we get involved in US politics but not in the choice of leaders back there, we will not be doing our duty.


"Salud’s impassioned statement was made at a crucial gathering of leaders of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) to discuss and form a political action committee, distinct from the federation, that would be aggressively involved in advocacy and in supporting mainstream political candidates who are committed to promote FilAm interests.

NaFFAA, being a non-profit, cannot engage in partisan politics. But political empowerment has always been a key objective of the federation, which is the biggest coalition of Filipino-American community organizations and advocacy groups in the US.

At a meeting of the NaFFAA leadership in Washington DC in November last year, which I convened as national chair, I urged frontally addressing the oxymoron of an organization dedicated20to political empowerment but rendered impotent by its non-profit status.

We had witnessed how community solidarity and political activism had helped push the veterans equity bill through the Senate and, subsequently, helped get a $198 million benefits package for veterns integrated in the $787 billion economic stimulus bill. In contrast, political impotence was behind the neglect with which the US Congress had treated the cause of the veterans since the passage of the infamous Rescission Act of 1946.

The consensus was to establish a political action committee as a separate and distinct entity from NaFFAA.

The conference in Tampa, which I attended, was the result of coast to coast teleconferences and email exchanges over the past several month s. The convenors were New York lawyer and NaFFAA Region 1 chair, JT Mallonga; Dr. Ernie Ramos and Dr. Joy Bruce of Florida, both former NaFFAA Region 4 chairs; lawyer Val Dagami, NaFFAA Florida state chair; and a former college classmate of mine, Lita Abril Martija, a prime mover of the Florida FilAm coalition. We all participated in our individual capacity and not as NaFFAA officers. The result was the formation of the Filipino American Public Affairs Coalition (FAPAC), with Dr. Ramos as interim president.

Florida was picked as the conference venue because of the impressive track record of its political action committee, formed only a few years back. In the last gubernatorial elections, the PAC, composed of card-carrying Democrats and Republicans, agreed to support the candidate who would commit to act on issues important to FilAms in Florida, among them, the appointment of qualified community leaders to key posts in the state administration.

Dr. Ramos, a rabid Democrat, related how the PAC decided to endorse Republican Charlie Crist. “My heart bled,” he recalled, “but the interests of our community had to take priority over my own partisan leanings.”20Crist won. He has since delivered on his commitments to the FilAm community.

Present at the Tampa conference was Mayor Kevin Burns of North Miami, a candidate for the US Senate. Burns has been a staunch supporter of the FilAm community in his city, proven not only in words but also in deeds. He authorized $200,000 towards the reconstruction of the building of NANAY, a FilAm non-profit that provides social services to seniors and youth.

Burns committed to support the FilAm agenda if he makes it to the Senate. The importance of such a commitment cannot be taken lightly. It was one solitary senator who blocked the passage of S.1315, the Filipino World War II Veterans Equity bill. It was also through the efforts of three senators, Senator Daniel Akaka and Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, as well as Congressman Bob Filner of San Diego, that the benefits package for Filipino veterans was successfully attached to the billion economic stimulu s measure.

The newly formed FAPAC will not stop at promoting FilAm interests on Capitol Hill and in the state houses and city halls across the US. FilAms are just as seriously affected by developments in the Philippines. Our remittances are what have kept the economy afloat. Many of us intend to retire in the Philippines. And, most of all, we cannot allow the land of our birth to be so flagrantly abused.

We are aware of the scramble for strategic advantage among several “presidentiables,” with qualifications ranging from the remarkable to the ridiculous. We are also aware that Philippine media and civic leaders have been remiss in defining and clarifying the qualifications of the contenders. This has kept the majority of voters unenlightened and easily swayed by empty promises and pres s releases.

At least, in theory, we in America are supposed to be more enlightened, we are oriented to donating money to candidates instead of being bought by them, and we are too remote to be threatened with bodily harm. We can also influence the way our relatives, the recipients of our remittances, vote.

It is in this regard that FAPAC can play a significant role. By inviting prospective presidential candidates to speak at FilAm town hall meetings, to explain their respective programs for the Philippines, we can more easily arrive at a consensus on whom to endorse and support.

Hopefully, this FilAm support will also involve contributing to the favored candidate’s campaign fund. As dual citizens and as qualified overseas absentee v oters, we can legally contribute to such a fund.

Senatorial candidates in the 2010 elections will also be affected by the growing political activism of US Pinoys. This is because the overseas absentee voting law includes them, along with the candidates for president and vice-president, among those we can vote for.

For sure, there is still much to be done to effectively muster the political power of FilAms and wield it in the 2010 elections. But, be assured that every newspaper headline that we read and every TV news report that we see concerning the anomalies in the Arroyo government and the machinations of her surrogates in Congress is helping raise our psychological temperature.

During the Marcos regime, that hit the boiling point and had an impact on the People Power revolt. Hopefully, it will boil over again in time for 2010.

Comments: gregmacabenta @ hotmail.com

Category: Politics Posted on  22 April 2009

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