Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. exhorted Filipino-Americans to realize their true power by going out to register and vote in November as the nation’s largest Fil-Am organization vowed to intensify efforts to bring more Fil-Ams to the voting precints.
“Since Day 1 I have been telling them that for us to have a potent voice in the US Congress, Fil-Ams would have to go out and vote,” Cuisia told the Manila Mail.
In Detroit, Mi. the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA) held its 10th Empowerment Conference to renew its long term goal of mobilizing Filipinos of voting age in the US to go out and vote in local and national elections.
Vowing to seize the opportunity made possible by their growing numbers in the US – 3.4 million, according to the 2010 Census – the Fil-Am community leaders reaffirmed their commitment to register their family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and newly-naturalized citizens and get them to the polls in November.
Now in it’s 6th year, NaFFAA’s FilAm Vote project is undertaking aggressive voter education and voter registration, notably in states with large Filipino populations.
In Nevada, for instance, the number of Filipinos grew by 146 percent in 10 years. Other so-called battleground states, like Virginia and Florida, have drawn the attention of both national parties because of the rapid growth of the Asian American community.
“This was in the minds of our founding fathers when NaFFAA was formed 15 years ago,” said NaFFAA National Chairman Ed Navarra in his keynote address at the opening of the conference on Aug. 3. “An ethnic community that is able to translate its numbers into political muscle and influence national policies that affect our interests.”
He recalled how NaFFAA’s founding chairman, Alex Esclamado, rallied the community to press Congress to pass the Filipino Veterans Equity bill. “Alex believed in harnessing our numbers to correct an historic injustice. It may have been an ‘impossible dream,’ but he knows it takes political action to make it come true.”
Cuisia suggested that American policy- and lawmakers have not really responded to the political potential of the Fil-Am community because of its virtual absence in elections.
“Unfortunately in the last 2 presidential elections less than 10 percent of Fil-Ams actually cast their votes and that’s why we don’t have a potent voice in the US Congress,” the Philippines’ chief envoy pointed out.
“Legislators look at that and say anyway the Filipinos don’t vote,” he added.
In the 2004 presidential elections, only 594,000 Filipino Americans voted – a decline of 7 percent because 122,000 registered voters did not cast their ballots,” said Gloria Caoile, former NaFFAA national vice chair and co-chair of FilAm Vote.
“It didn’t get any better in 2008. Potentially, 40 percent of our total number can be mobilized to go to the polls. But we need to register them if they haven’t done so and educate them on issues that directly affect our community so they will appreciate what’s at stake, especially for our children and families.”
Parallel to the get-out-to-vote campaign, Cuisia explained that more Fil-Ams should pursue political office or at least consider a career in American politics.
He pointed to Alexander de Ocampo who is running for a seat in the Los Angeles, Ca. city council. De Ocampo belongs to the pioneering batch of the Filipino American Youth Leadership Program (FAYLP) which recently returned from a working tour of the Philippines where they met with top Philippine political and business leaders.
As his project for the FAYLP, de Ocampo reportedly wants to promote political empowerment because, as the Philippine envoy averred, “he’s eventually going to run for higher political office; he’s quite young and it’s good he’s starting early.”
Cuisia noted that Rep. Steve Austria, the first 1st generation Fil-Am to win a seat in the US Congress, is not running for re-election in November.
Energized by the day’s discussions, delegates caucused separately as Democrats and Republicans and mapped out strategies to mobilize their base. “But our common goal is to build political power for our community,” said Caoile.
“So much is at stake that we can’t afford to simply stand by and not be politically engaged.”
At the 3-day NaFFAA conference delegates also addressed immigration reform, the DREAM Act, the SAVE Act, medicare portability, medical and trade missions to the Philippines, pending issues related to Filipino World War II veterans, and the legal defense of Filipinos who need assistance.
The Filipino American Legal Defense and Education Fund (FALDEF), a NAFFAA affiliate, was set up four years ago for this purpose. It is providing legal counsel and assistance to Jose Antonio Vargas, the acclaimed Pulizer-Prize winner who recently disclosed his status as an undocumented immigrant.