|FOREIGN AFFAIRS Secretary Albert del Rosario with Filam leader Loida Lewis and Philippine Ambassador to US Jose Cuisia Jr.
By CLAIRE MORALES TRUE and JOSEPH G. LARIOSA
SAN FRANCISCO/CHICAGO/VANCOUVER (JGL/PhilAmPress) – Out of sheer number, the millions of Filipino Americans in the United States and Canada could be the game changers or deciding voters in elections in their native land or in the United States and Canada.
In the United States alone, there are estimated to be 4.5 millions Filipinos and Filipino Americans (Americans of Filipino descent), not even counting perhaps the close to 500,000 undocumented Filipinos.
Of that big number, only close to 300,000 of Filipinos and FilAms who are dual citizens (Americans and Filipinos) registered and could vote for the next Philippine President, Vice President, Senators and party-list representatives.
And of that close to 300,000, only about 200,000 registered FilAms voted for the PHL officials in the last elections with big cities like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Honolulu leading the registrants.
To be exact, there were only 227,000 registered FilAm voters in US in the last elections, according to government statistics provided by the Philippine Embassy and the Commission on Elections, although, with their new-found importance and role, more and more Filipinos have registered for the next Philippine elections.
The number pales in comparison to the Filipinos in the Middle East and Africa who had registered 550,000 voters, the biggest by region in the world, although they are much less in number compared to their counterparts in North America.
Asia and the Pacific only had 320,000 registered Filipino voters but they are the most active and closely knit, especially those in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
Europe has the least number of overseas Filipino voters with only some 150,000 spread mostly in London and United Kingdom, Italy, France and Germany.
Overseas Filipino voters, indeed, had achieved a milestone with some 1.3 million now registered in some 80 countries, compared to only a few thousands when the OFWs were first empowered in 2003 under the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo through Republic Act No. 9189, according to Professor Alfred G. Gabot, PhilAmPress founder and author of the book “Empowering Citizens Abroad” with preface by then Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye and a foreword from former Ambassador, Governor and Congressman Gualberto Lumauig.
In his message to the book, Bunye pointed out that “no particular segment of our citizenry better deserve the right to vote” than the overseas Filipinos. “Most of them left the country, bear the pain of being away from their homes, not by choice but by circumstances that require them to work and earn a living for the well being and happiness of their families,” he said, adding the then President’s terms “their contribution to our economy is immense…truly they are today’s Overseas Filipino Investors, our modern-day heroes.”
Lumauig, the former Ambassador to Taiwan, stressed that the Philippines has gone a long way in empowering the overseas Filipinos through absentee voting. He recalled that while the Philippine Constitution of 1987 already enshrined the right of overseas Filipinos to vote, it took the Philippine leaders 16 years before an enabling law was enacted by Congress and signed into law.
No less than Philippine Ambassador to Washington Jose L. Cuisia Jr. noted that the registered FilAm voters in US represented only “.08 percent” of those who should register and vote, prompting him to challenge FilAm leaders to do something to improve the numbers and for those registered to actually vote.
“Despite the large number of (Filipinos) in the U.S., we have no voice. Many Filipinos, who can vote, don’t vote,” Ambassador Cuisia bewailed during a town hall meeting at the Philippine Consulate in Chicago.
In response to the challenge of Philippine Ambassador during the 12thPagkikita sa Konsulado (town hall meeting at the Philippine Consulate) to go out and vote during the Philippines and United States elections next year, several Filipino Americans will be actively joining the meeting that will be attended by visiting New York city-based Filipino American leader Atty. Loida Nicolas Lewis on Dec. 5, 2015 at Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare Hotel & Convention Center at 5440 North River Road, Rosemont, Illinois, according to Cindy Flores, who just arrived from Las Vegas, Nevada after attending the Federation of Philippine American Chambers of Commerce (FPACC) 2015 Bi-National Business Conference.
The monthly Pagkikita sa Konsulado is a brainchild of Philippine Consul General Generoso D.G. Calonge.
Herminio T. de Guia, Jr., Gawad Kalinga Chicago Area coordinator, said he is delighted that “Ms. Lewis, who is a known workaholic and an overachiever, is a ‘Mar (Roxas) and Leni’ (Robredo) supporter” and is coming out of her way to come to Chicago area to educate the community of the political developments in the Philippines.
Mr. De Guia, who formed two Facebook groups for Mar-Leni campaigns – Filipinos Abroad and Friends for Mar at Leni (FAB 4 MAR AT LENI) with 3,001 members and growing and Friends of Jim Paredes for Mar at Leni with 3,701 members and also growing, said “I have visited the Philippines almost every two years, followed the ongoings, news and articles about our country. I truly believe Mar at Leni is the best choice and the most qualified candidates who can continue the necessary changes and reforms started by Daang Matuwid(straight path).”
Parties interested to attend the political meeting that will be presided over by Ms. Lewis may RSVP Cindy Flores at her phone number 312.925.7812 or email address firstname.lastname@example.org or Marlon L. Pecson at 773.704.4342 or email him at email@example.com.
Ms. Lewis also asked Chicago area community leaders Josie Disterhoft, Juanita Salvador Burris and Jan Paul C. Ferrer to spread the word about the meeting.
Aside from the political meeting, Ms. Lewis, an alumna of the University of the Philippines (UP), will be the keynote speaker and special guest of honor at the induction of officers of the UP Alumni Association of Greater Chicago (UPAAGC) at 6 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015 also at Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare.
Ryan T. Tejero, incoming UPAAGC president, said Ms. Lewis will talk about her perspectives on Philippine politics and economy. She will also entertain questions after her 15-minute speech.
“I challenge those registered voters to really vote. Consulates do educational forum on electoral process. We are non-partisans and we will come up with suggestions for voters how they select (their candidates). For us to have sustained growth, you should select the leader,” Mr. Cuisia said.
“With the right leader, growth of 8 to 10% will be needed for six years to grow to address poverty and equality. (But there) remain many challenges.”
ONLY 0.08% FILIPINOS VOTED
Ambassador Cuisia said, “Despite the large number of (Filipinos) in the U.S., we have no voice. Many Filipinos, who can vote, don’t vote.”
He was dismayed to learn that out of the 3-million Filipinos in the U.S., who can vote in the Philippine elections, there were only 227,000 voters, who voted in the last Philippine elections in the U.S., which is equivalent to .08%.
It’s about time students, youth leaders and the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) really go out and vote, Mr. Cuisia said. “The Consulates will be pushing them to be politically engaged.”
He noted that in the 2012 United States presidential elections, there was a big increase among Asian voters, including Filipino Americans voting in the U.S. elections. But prior to the elections, in 2008, “figures are very dismal for Filipino Americans.”
Mr. Cuisia challenged the Filipino Americans to get involved in politics, by asking them to consider political career. He named such young generation of leaders like Mr. Jan Paul Ferrer, financial advisor of Morgan Stanley, and talented artist Louella Maningas Cabalona to take the political path.
REP. AUSTRIA ON COMEBACK TRAIL?
He said they can find inspiration from such political leaders as Representatives Bobby Scott (D-VA-03-, Al Green (D-TX-09) and first Filipino American first generation Rep. Steve Austria, who bowed out of office to give way to Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-08).
“Now that Speaker Boehner is gone from office, Mr. Austria can regain the district that will be left vacant by Mr. Boehner,” Mr. Cuisia said. Messrs. Boehner and Austria live in the same district in Ohio.
When Attorney Lewis comes to Chicago, this will not be the first time that she will be asking the Filipino Americans to get out in vote.
In 2010, Ms. Lewis was in town to ask the Filipino American dual citizens to vote in the 2010 presidential elections. She attended the Noynoy-Mar rally on Jan. 23, 2010 at the Westin Hotel-Chicago North Shore in Wheeling, Illinois. It was organized by Marlon L. Pecson and Bart and Yoly Tubalinal.
At the same time, she joined a group, who campaigned for the presidential elections of then Senator Benigno S. Aquino III and then Trade Secretary Mar Roxas.
In 2013, Attorney Lewis also came to suburban Carol Stream, Illinois to endorse at least eight of 12 Team PNoy senatorial candidates and then congressional candidate, Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, who was then running for representative in the third district of Camarines Sur.
This time when she returns to Chicago, Ms. Lewis will also support the presidential candidacy of Sec. Mar Roxas and the vice presidential candidacy of Rep. Leni Robredo as she will urge Filipino Americans to go out and vote.
“I am excited to pitch the candidacy of Mar-Leni,” Ms. Lewis said, “I hope you will be there to cover the event.”