Filipino-Americans urged to vote in Nov. 6 US elections
- Jose Katigbak (The Philippine Star) - October 7, 2012 - 12:00am

WASHINGTON – “Filipino Americans, let your voices be heard in the Nov. 6 US elections.” 

This is the message that the Philippine embassy, Filipino-American leaders and even senior US officials are giving the 3.5 million-strong community, the third largest Asian grouping in the United States after Chinese and Indians.  

In some counties, the number of eligible Filipino voters have passed the five percent threshold required by the Voting Rights Act to have ballots and election materials available in Tagalog.

Yet their general voting record is abysmal. They hardly play any role in US politics commensurate with their importance.

“Pinoy voter apathy continues to be a challenge. We have a high naturalization rate but a miserable low voter registration rate,” said union activist, community organizer and partisan Democratic supporter Jon Melegrito.

The main preoccupation of Filipino immigrants who come to America is economic survival, said Melegrito, who is also spokesman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA).

“There have been studies which show that it takes 20 years before a typical Fil-Am achieves enough economic stability to become involved politically,” he said.

Kurt Campbell, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, during a recent visit to Washington by Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario urged the Filipino community in the United States to be more active in US politics.

“They have to articulate, as other groups do, a strong interest in maintaining this key relationship between the US and the Philippines,” he said.

At stake in the Nov. 6 elections, in addition to the showdown between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, are 33 Senate seats, all the seats in the House of Representatives as well as a dozen governor’s seats and many local races.

Filipinos not only have a dismal voting record, they also play a minimal role in political party participation or running for office, community leaders said. 

In contrast, there are a number of politicians at the national and local level of Chinese heritage and two governors of Indian extraction.

Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, who served two terms ending in 2002, was the nation’s first and only Filipino governor and the highest Fil-Am officeholder ever elected in the United States.

Stephen Austria of Ohio, a first generation Fil-Am whose father was from Tiaong, Quezon, was elected to the US Congress in 2008 but after two terms is calling it quits.

Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia said in the last two presidential elections, less than 10 percent of eligible Fil-Am voters actually cast their ballots.

This is not due to any lack of trying by community leaders.

Alberto Alfaro, editor of the Manila Mail which circulates in the Washington DC area including parts of Maryland and Virginia, said he did not think voter registration campaigns launched by community leaders would do much to boost Filipino voter participation.

“Only the rabid followers of Obama and Romney will go to the trouble of registering and voting. As for the rest, the usual answer for Pinoys here is: ‘It’s a waste of time (and) anyway my vote won’t make a difference’,” Alfaro said.

Immigration lawyer and staunch Republican supporter Januario Azarcon’s take on low voter participation is that it stems from the political culture that they have grown up with in the Philippines.

“Back home, people are born into a system where only few families dominate political power and... not too many people have the appetite to challenge the existing order. Pinoys have immigrated to the US with this frame of mind,” he said.

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