Filipino-Americans: A political force
The Philippines is gearing up for the May 2019 elections with more than 18,000 elective posts for the taking, among them 12 slots for senators, all 243 seats in Congress, 59 for party-list representatives and the rest for local posts from governor down to municipal councilors. Candidates from the serious to the downright hilarious have started filing their certificates of candidacy (COC) last Thursday, with the Comelec extending the deadline up to Oct. 17.
Here in Washington, D.C., Republicans and Democrats are gearing up for the Nov. 6 midterm elections. Up for contention are all 435 seats in the House of Representatives, 35 Senate seats (out of 100) as well as state and territorial governorships. Americans will also be voting on a number of issues such as Medicaid health insurance, marijuana legalization, abortion and same-sex marriage.
The fight for control of the House of Representatives is extremely critical for the Republicans (who currently control both the House and the Senate) as it could stymie the Trump administration’s agenda, with Democrats contemplating impeachment moves against President Trump. To wrest control of the House – which has been under Republican leadership since 2010 – the Democrats must flip 25 seats while the Republicans only need to hold on to eight to maintain control.
According to several polling outfits, the Democrats have a more than 80 percent chance of winning the House of Representatives and getting a slight majority. On the other hand, Republicans are seen to retain control of the Senate, since Democrats will have difficulty keeping 26 out of the 35 seats that are being contested, plus the fact that 10 of the seats in contention are in states won by President Trump in the 2016 presidential elections.
But what we in the Philippine embassy are closely monitoring is how more Filipino-Americans are getting involved and increasing their presence and participation in US politics. According to the latest American Community Survey results released by the US Census Bureau, there are now four million Filipino-Americans who are residing and working in the US, making them the third largest Asian group in America.
During my first address to Filipino communities in the United States and the Caribbean as Philippine Ambassador in December last year, I underscored the vital role that Filipino-Americans can play in strengthening Philippines-US relations, and how important it is for them to have their share of voice – to be more vocal, visible and strategic – in order to pursue their goals, interests and aspirations.
In my first official trip to New York last February on the occasion of the 4th Filipino-American Community General Assembly at the Philippine Center, I told the New York-based members of the media that “Filipinos are a potent force,” but may not realize how much power they have.
During that meeting, I encouraged Filipino-Americans to voice out their concerns, positions and ideas to their senators and representatives so that these legislators will take cognizance of such when they craft policy.
We are very pleased to see an increasing number of Filipinos who have chosen – or are choosing – to go into public service, among them Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, the first Filipino American Attorney General who may run for Utah Governor; Mayor Ron Falconi of Brunswick who is the first Filipino mayor in the state of Ohio; and Congressman Bobby Scott who is now on his 13th term as Representative of the Third District of Virginia. (See photos in This Week on People-Asia at the Allure section of the Philippine STAR.)
Three Filipino-American women have also decided to throw their hat into the political arena and are running in the Nov. 6 midterm elections as representatives in their respective districts: Gina Ortiz-Jones from the 23rd District of Texas; Cristina Osmeña from the 14th Congressional District of California; and Dr. Jennifer Mijares-Zimmerman from the First Congressional District of Florida.
Gina Jones, a former Air Force intelligence officer and a veteran of the Iraq War, is running under the banner of the Democrats, just like Dr. Zimmerman who is facing incumbent and Republican congressman Matt Gaetz. The fight in Florida is going to be challenging for Dr. Zimmerman as she is running in a district that is known as the “most Republican” in the “sunshine state.” On the other hand, Cristina Osmeña – a great granddaughter of President Sergio Osmeña – is running as a Republican.
Regardless of their political parties or affiliations, what is important is for Filipinos in the US to take part in the electoral exercise and express their needs, concerns and advocacies through the ballot nor just for themselves but their families and communities. Clearly, Filipino-Americans have to make their voice clearer and stronger, and must band together so political leaders and policy makers will begin to realize that Filipino-Americans are a force to be reckoned with.
Obviously, the task is challenging, but we continue to interact with Fil-Am communities. The reason why I try to go around as much as I can and make it a point to meet Filipino-American community leaders all over the United States is to remind them of the significant role they play in US-Philippine relations.
Filipinos all over the world are always welcomed and appreciated by their host countries because they assimilate well and contribute positively to the communities where they reside. Every time I meet a US congressmen or a senator, it makes me proud to hear them tell me of how they appreciate Filipinos as hardworking, highly skilled individuals and productive members of their society.