FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - October 27, 2020 - 12:00am

I have not seen reliable data on how Filipino-Americans are voting in next week’s crucial presidential elections. All I have are reiterations of support for Joe Biden by some of my high school classmates in our Viber group. But they are all from reliable Blue states such as California and New Jersey.

There is, to be sure, no such thing as a “Filipino vote” figuring in the accounting of America electoral strategists. We do know that poll trackers are keeping a tab on the Indian-American vote, especially in Texas, given that Kamala Harris in on the ticket as Biden’s runningmate. Harris is half-Indian.

Filipino-Americans, we know, are a contentious lot. They keep setting up associations that fracture almost after a day. There is no prominent Filipino-American personality we could track as some sort of icon for the community’s political sentiment.

The last Filipino-American to make the news here served as chef in the Obama White House. Even then, it was never clear if she won over the former president to the many merits of sinigang.

Filipino-Americans, from anecdotal accounts, are more conscious than others about assimilating into adopted communities. We may suppose, therefore, that Filipinos in the Red states will tend to vote Republican and those in the Blue states will vote Democratic. They will therefore cancel each other out as a notable voting bloc.

Since Filipino-Americans did not constitute an important voting bloc, there was little incentive for US politicians to take up the issues relating to the community or continue with the old rhetoric about the “special friendship” between our two countries. Over the past few years, our importance to the US ticked up a bit only because of escalating tensions over artificial islands Beijing built in the South China Sea.

Most important for us, American investments in our economy slowed to a trickle the past years. Bilateral trade with the US remained largely stagnant.

But the results of next week’s elections will have important implications for the country – slight as the expected policy changes may be.

Since we expelled US military bases nearly three decades ago, the Philippines was moved to the margins of American attention. For a long while after the expulsion, no important American official visited the country –except for APEC meetings we hosted.

Washington clearly demonstrated its displeasure over our decision on the bases. We hardly received any military assistance. We began sourcing our equipment from a wide array of countries, from Poland to Israel to South Korea, spending our own money for expensive stuff that used to come free from Uncle Sam.

Washington did not invite us to join ambitious multilateral partnerships such as the ill-fated Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Trump administration eventually junked. But then, the diminution of our importance in Washington’s strategic view of the world may be due to a large extent to the end of the Cold War. After the strategy of containment against the communist countries was abandoned, our significance as a frontline state declined.

One week before US presidential elections, it does seem inevitable that Joe Biden will trash Donald Trump. The polling numbers, especially those in the so-called swing states, hugely favor the Democratic candidate. It is likely, too, as part of the backlash against Trump, that the Democrats will win control of the US Senate – giving them complete command of the two policymaking branches of government.

A Biden victory and Democratic control of the US Congress will begin reversing the damage brought about by Trump’s unilateralism.

Under Trump and his simplistic obsession with winning trade surpluses on every front, US trade policy was restrictive. That produced a climate generally hostile to the expansion of global trade, affecting us eventually. Philippine growth is dependent on expanding our trade with the rest of the world.

Under Trump, development assistance was constricted. The (outgoing) president was averse to giving out money to multilateral agencies and developing countries. He was hostile to the US spending money to maintain global stability, an important condition for the growth of the world’s economy.

Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Accord, the last possibility for concerted global action to reverse climate change. The Philippines is most vulnerable to the severe weather climate change induced.

Should a Biden presidency reverse these aspects of Trump’s global policy, we stand to benefit – albeit indirectly and over a significant period of time. We need concerted global action on climate change to succeed, a more open global trade regime to flourish and conditions of general stability to pertain. These are conditions more conducive to our progress.

US policy, even under a Biden presidency, will continue to have the overarching goal of preventing China from achieving sole superpower status. That policy makes our region a theater of confrontation.

Even so, Washington will continue to be shy about our bilateral military alliance, conscious of the possibility this could draw them into an entanglement they do not fully control. There will continue to be aggressive “freedom of navigation” patrols by US warships to assert Washington’s policy on the South China Sea. But those exercises will contribute very little to solidifying our own claims. Washington is not fully reconciled with our archipelagic doctrine claims.

Any change in Washington’s policy in a post-Trump period will likely be less dramatic and less immediate than what we might wish to see. But a Biden presidency will probably be a more effective partner in controlling the pandemic and restraining the Trumpian impulse for vaccine nationalism.

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