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Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for April 4th, 2008

Filipinos and the US elections

Posted by butalidnl on 4 April 2008

Many people in the Philippines are regularly following the US presidential primaries. This is in sharp contrast to how these same people may refuse to really get really interested with the political maneuvers of Philippine presidential hopefuls.  Funny, in a sense.

It is remarkable in that we Filipinos don’t really have much to cheer about the US as a whole. As our former colonial ruler, the US is quite terrible. I could not fail but compare the way other countries treat their former colonies – with generous aid/development programs, special status to immigrants from these countries, etc. The British Commonwealth has quite a broad set of continuing beneficial links between Britain and its former colonies.  Filipinos, in fact, get very warm treatment in Spain (our other former colonizer) – in the way Filipinos living in Spain  are given various benefits for being nationals of a former colony. But the US? it treats the Philippines like shit – no respect at all. Even now, six decades after World War II, the US refuses to acknowledge Filipino soldiers who served in the US army then.  And when US soldiers commit crimes (rape, murder) in the Philippines, they don’t get turned over to Philippine authorities. [this is in contrast to US soldiers in Japan, who end up immediately in Japanese custody] And the US is amiss in many of its economic and military commitments to the Philippines.

In a sense, it would not be too wide off the mark for us to say – to hell with America, we don’t want to have anything to do with it!

But Filipinos continue to follow the US election process with keen attention. Why?

It is an excellent spectator sport.
The US election is interesting to Filipinos precisely because we won’t feel the immediate effect of the result. It is exciting, especially with the way the media covers it. It is also very Filipino to “bet” on these kinds of contests, often quite literally. I remember that a South Korean basketball player once commented that he felt at home in the Philippines, even when his team is playing against the Philippine team. The reason, he said, was that “whenever we play, one half of the spectators are cheering for us”.

There are millions of Fil-Ams ,  and these  people naturally influence their Philippine-based relatives. I learned that when you know somebody from a certain country, you tend to get interested in developments in that country.  When something big happens in the Philippines (e.g. a natural disaster, etc)  my neighbors, colleagues at work, etc talk to me about it – it turned out that they had paid more attention to Philippine news because they knew me, a Filipino. It’s the same for me, also. For instance, if there is a heat wave in New York, I could not help but think of my friends who live there. So, why not think about an election that involves many of our friends and relatives in the US?

The elections do affect our relatives and friends in the US.  I don’t have exact figures, but I’m sure that a lot of Fil-Ams served and are serving in Iraq, and hundreds of FilAms have died or got injured during this war. So, the issue of whether or not the Iraq war continues is concrete for Fil-Ams.

US economic policies affect the Philippines.
The Philippine economy is very much affected with what happens in the US. The US dollar drops in value vis-a-vis the peso, and Filipino exporters feel it in declining sales. If the next US president clamps down on the trend to outsourcing, the entire call center industry will have a problem. And of course, if the US limits the hiring of foreign nurses; many people in the Philippines will be affected.

But whom should we cheer for?

As with most things, it depends.

McCain wants to keep the US in Iraq till well into the future. If McCain wins, more FilAms will die in that war.
But on the other hand – McCain is an ardent believer in open markets and free trade. I don’t expect him to want to cut down on outsourcing or hiring foreign nurses.

Both Obama and Clinton want to get the troops out of Iraq. I am inclined to think this is a good idea, and not only because of FilAm lives which this would save.
At the same time, they are both making protectionist noises. This is disturbing, especially if the Philippine economy will likely suffer from the US shutting doors to the world.

In terms of choosing between Obama and Clinton, I think the choice is a matter of taste. Clinton is “the devil you know”, in the sense that though she may not sound too inspiring, we know that she will manage the country reasonably well. Also, her life has been too public for too long – so I don’t think she is prone to having nasty scandals when she becomes president.

Obama, however, is “the devil you don’t know”. While there is a chance that he will remain clean, and manage the country well; there is nothing to really hold on to regarding this man.  For all we know, Obama has  closets full of skeletons. He is a “loose cannon”- we don’t know what he stands for, except that he says he will change things. Really.
However, as an “athlete” in  this spectator sport – Obama is great. He makes good television.

It could be useful to try to compare the US candidates with Philippine presidents.

Obama reminds me of Magsaysay. Both had a privileged upbringing, but  succeeded in repackaging themselves as being one with the “common man”. Magsaysay was a great speaker; but as president, he pursued policies that only made things more difficult for his successors (e.g. his mass transfer of Central Luzon farmers to Mindanao). And Magsaysay had a lot of corruption scandals (which were not exposed, because he died before opponents had a chance to do so).

Clinton for me, would be Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Both are members of the political elite, with links to former presidents who did well in their times. (Bill Clinton, and Diosdado Macapagal were good presidents). Both opt for technocratic, in-system solutions for the country’s problems. And if you ask me, I don’t think they would be judged as bad presidents, when everything is over.

As for McCain, his Philippine counterpart has to be Marcos. Both lay claim to being some kind of military hero; but didn’t spend too much time in the military. Their political message is generally based in the past; of wanting to make the country great again.  Both of them wanted to be president enough to be tempted to change political party – which incidentally, Marcos did (from Liberal to Nacionalista) .  Both opted for the military solution to the country’s problems (Marcos’ declared Martial Law, McCain supported the Bush Iraq policy) One big difference (maybe) is that McCain is not really corrupt, while Marcos beat all records re this.

So, if you were to cheer for a candidate, which one would you choose: Marcos, GMA or Magsaysay?

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