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US elections: A clearly divided nation

BABE’S EYE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON D.C. - Ambassador B. Romualdez (The Philippine Star) - November 8, 2020 - 12:00am

Never in the history of the United States has the division among Americans been more pronounced than during this November presidential election, the result of which may be determined by this weekend. An estimated 159.8 million registered voters cast their ballots – far more than the 136.6 million recorded in 2016 – with a turnout rate of 66.8 percent, which is the highest recorded since 1900.

The high turnout and the razor-thin margins, especially in battleground states, are clear indications that Americans feel very strongly about the key campaign issues and, more significantly, are very passionate about who will be leading their country in the next four years. The key issues include the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump administration’s handling of the global health crisis that has infected close to 50 million people all over the world, with more than 1.2 million deaths recorded.

Emotions ran high on the issue of lockdowns to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus pandemic (with over 241,000 deaths recorded in the US) and the need to open up the economy to prevent further job losses as a consequence. In fact, the wearing of face masks in public has also been elevated to a political statement as sharp divisions became apparent, as some feel that it violates their freedom while others see it as a life-protecting measure. While America is known as the bastion of freedom and democracy, racial injustice figured heavily as a campaign issue as well as crime and safety.

No doubt the world is watching the outcome of this hotly contested presidential election as it could have an impact globally in many aspects. Whoever leads the United States will have a significant impact on the conduct of their foreign policy. We have been receiving a number of media requests here in Washington and in the Philippines, but as diplomats, we have to be careful what we say.

Republicans have always been more conservative, with President Trump making it clear that he would like to see allies like the Philippines be able to defend themselves. This also aligns with our own aspirations to achieve a credible defense posture and not continue to be dependent on other nations for our defense and security. From 2016 to 2019, the US has provided over $550 million in military assistance – by far the largest in the region – bringing us closer to attaining a credible defense posture.

In terms of foreign policy, there is no question that the recognition of the 2016 PCA arbitral award which invalidated China’s expansive claims on the South China Sea is very important for us. This US policy shift also received bipartisan support in the US Congress, and in my conversations with the foreign policy advisers of Vice President Biden, they indicated that they will most likely continue with the current US policy regarding China and the South China Sea issue.

On trade, we remain confident that many American companies that are already doing business out of the US and looking at other markets will see the Philippines as their “pathway to Asia” – which we will promote in the upcoming virtual economic forum that we are arranging with Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez and Vince Dizon of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority.

During my recent interview with Karen Davila for Headstart, the issue of immigration also came up, with concerns that the Fil-American community might be negatively impacted by the current immigration policy of President Trump if he gets another four years. The Trump administration has suspended work visas and exchange (J-1) visas that allow many Filipinos to go to the US as research scholars, teachers, professors and doctors participating in programs that promote cultural exchange. However, the J-1 program has also resulted in overstaying, with many refusing to go home after their authorized period of stay.

As many as three million immigrants were deported during the time of president Barack Obama, with 1.18 million deportations conducted in his first three years in office. In comparison, deportations under the first three years of President Trump were lower at about 800,000, despite an executive order that gave the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency broader powers to detain unauthorized immigrants.

But while there are about 350,000 Filipinos that are facing deportation cases, the image of Filipinos in the US continues to be extremely good – as Filipinos are known to be industrious and hardworking. We have many Fil-Am frontliners who are thick in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, comprising about one-third of foreign-born nurses in the United States.

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio paid homage to the Filipino-American community during the celebration of the Filipino-American History Month last October, saying that New York City is proud to be home to more than 80,000 Filipinos who make the city a richer, stronger place. “We recognize the incredible work and sacrifice of all of you who served on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic… It’s no exaggeration to say that we literally would not have survived the COVID-19 pandemic without all of you, our Filipino brothers and sisters,” Mayor De Blasio said.

I am confident that regardless of who holds office in the Oval Office – whether Democrat or Republican – the Philippines and the US will remain close allies. When former secretary Albert del Rosario was our ambassador in Washington, DC under a Democratic administration, he developed a lot of goodwill with many Democrats. That goodwill is what we will continue to build upon as we do our job in advancing a mutually beneficial relationship.

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Email: babeseyeview@gmail.com

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