Our best asset: Overseas Filipinos
BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Babe Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - September 8, 2019 - 12:00am

When I assumed my post as Philippine ambassador to the United States, one of the first things I did was to engage in townhall meetings with leaders of the Filipino community, knowing fully well that Filipinos abroad play a very important part not only in growing our economy but also in strengthening relations between the Philippines and the US. 

My marching orders from President Duterte was to attend to our fellow Filipinos. After all, one of the three pillars of our foreign policy is to promote the welfare and interest of OFWs and protect their rights.  

In fact, President Duterte would speak to us about his concern for OFWs who were his staunch supporters when he was campaigning for the presidential elections in 2016. These overseas workers pooled resources to come up with campaign materials for the then-Davao mayor who did not have the immense campaign funds of his rivals. The OFWs mobilized themselves and became effective campaigners, telling their families and friends to vote for Mayor Duterte.

During a meeting in Malacañang with members of the US-Philippines Society, the president became emotional as he talked about the plight of abused OFWs like the domestic helper in Kuwait who went missing for a year – only to be discovered in a freezer at the apartment of her employers. Last July, the president signed into law Republic Act No. 11299 creating the Office for Social Welfare Attaché to help OFWs especially those who become victims of illegal recruiters and suffer abuse from employers – a move that was hailed by OFWs.  

The fact is, Filipinos are among the most industrious and hardworking people in the world. They are dedicated and reliable, exerting extra effort to make sure that they turn in quality work. Filipinos are most preferred by foreign employers. 

I saw this for myself when I recently conducted an official visit to Anchorage, Alaska upon the invitation of leading Republican Senator Dan Sullivan, who told me that “Alaska is blessed to have a strong and vibrant Filipino community, the largest, per capita,” in the United States. (See photos in This Week on PeopleAsia at the Allure section of the Philippine STAR today.)

Over 30,000 Filipinos currently live and work in Alaska, making them the biggest immigrant group in the state dubbed as “The Last Frontier.” Majority of the Filipinos are in Anchorage, which is also where 40 percent of Alaskans reside. We had meetings and engagements with various groups as well as local officials and Filipino-American community leaders, but among the most memorable was our visit to the Anchorage plant of Copper River Seafoods, a major producer of Alaska seafood that is also one of the largest employers of Filipino-Americans in the state (numbering close to a thousand). They are industrious, hardworking and dedicated workers – their contribution to the community is very much appreciated. 

During the townhall meeting at the University of Alaska Anchorage, members of the Filipino-American community aired their request for the establishment of a consulate in Alaska to make it more convenient for them to avail of consular services like passport or visa renewals without having to travel far. Senator Sullivan was very supportive of the idea. I told them we will push hard to establish one as soon as it is feasible.

Alaska is known for being the coldest state, but the welcome we received during our official visit was the total opposite – very warm, with our kababayans visibly moved when I told them how proud I was to be their Philippine ambassador to the US because everywhere I go and every person I meet including senators and congressmen, I would hear praises about Filipino-Americans for being productive members of the community. 

OFWs are in fact among our best assets, a major resource who generate goodwill and create a positive image for the Philippines. Which is why it is important for diplomats to be attuned to the needs and concerns of overseas Filipino workers –  reminding me of our overseas Filipino workers in Greece who agitated for the ouster of this former willy-nilly spokesperson of former president Gloria Arroyo, Rigoberto “Bobo” – I mean “Bobi” – Tiglao. 

Tiglao finagled an ambassadorial position to Cyprus and Greece where he was denounced for doing nothing for our workers in Greece – and was described as “one of the worst in Philippine diplomatic service” by irate leaders of different migrant workers’ groups in many parts of the world. 

Tiglao even had the gall to ask President Noynoy Aquino to have his term extended. This was flatly denied, which explains why he hates President Aquino.  The fact is, Filipino workers in Greece protested (https://www.gmanetwork.com/news/news/pinoyabroad/203170/pinoy-protesters-in-greece-demand-ouster-of-envoy/story/) and also demanded his ouster for living a lavish lifestyle at the expense of Filipino taxpayers especially when overseas Filipino workers were reeling from the effects of the economic crisis in Greece at that time.

We’re told he’s trying to finagle another ambassadorial post – what? To give, the Filipino taxpayer the “Greek shaft” again? The way he sounds though is that he seems to be applying to be the spokesperson of the Chinese government because he keeps on explaining the side of China in the arbitral ruling, stupidly trying to sound like an expert on maritime law.

Senator Ping Lacson once called him stupid for blabbing about the role of the Senate without knowing the facts about the Constitution (https://politics.com.ph/puro-bira-di-nagbabasa-lacson-calls-bobi-tiglao-stupid-over-pro-gma-column/). The senator was absolutely right – he is stupid.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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