Fil-Ams looking forward to Obama's PH visit
WASHINGTON D.C. -- Filipino-American leaders lauded White House announcement about President Obama’s visit to Manila next month, at the same time they’ll be conferring with his political rivals in a key "meet up" with key Republican lawmakers.
"For many centuries, Filipinos have been part of American history," Ed Navarra, chairman of the umbrella National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) said in a statement.
"Now nearly four million strong, Filipinos in America are a growing political force. They voted in large numbers in the last presidential elections, comprising the second largest Asian American group to cast their ballots," the statement read.
Obama, also the Democratic Party leader, is scheduled be in the Philippines on Oct. 11-12. It will be the last leg of a four-nation Southeast Asian swing timed with Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Fil-Am leaders from all over the US will also be gathering at a casino hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada on Oct. 12, on the invitation of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R, 5th District, WA) who chairs the House Conference Committee; and Rep. Ed Royce (R, 39th District, CA), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
"The meet up will provide a unique opportunity for leaders of the Filipino American community across the country to connect with members of Congress to discuss legislative and policy priories, both on the domestic and foreign policy fronts," the invitation from GOP leaders said.
Jon Melegrito, writing in the latest issue of the Manila Mail, Metro DC’s longest running Fil-Am newspaper, said the meeting will test NaFFAA and other Fil-Am groups' "articulating a political presence and consistent message that should command attention."
"We want to encourage as many in our community to take advantage of this rare opportunity to engage in a dialogue with members of Congress and express our concerns," said J. T. Mallonga, NaFFAA vice chairman and director of the Filipino American Legal Defense & Education Fund (FALDEF).
Republicans have stepped up their outreach to crucial sectors of the American electorate that rejected them in the 2012 elections. Melegrito noted that a large part of the GOP's defeat can be attributed to Latino and Asian American voters, 70 percent of whom went for Obama and the Democrats in that election.
"We are, after all, the second largest among Asian Americans in this country. And our issues need to be addressed seriously and urgently by our elected officials in Congress." Navarra declared, pointing to pending immigration reforms legislation as well as the issue of Filipino World War II veterans recognition.
Obama's visit to the Philippines will likely highlight the many dimensions of the two nation's historic ties.
Diplomatic sources told ABS-CBN News that the "framework agreement for increased rotational presence" of US forces in the Philippines will be ready when Presidents Obama and Aquino meet in Manila next month.
The third round of talks were held here this week but a scheduled press briefing last Friday was scrapped, possibly to give way to the White House announcement. The accord would grant US forces access to selected Philippine military installations, allow them to store supplies and equipment, including conventional weapons, and pave the way for joint operations within the context of training and intelligence-sharing.
"We view the rebalance as more than a policy decision, but a strategic imperative, as the Asia-Pacific region has become the nexus of the world's most dynamic of opportunities, and the most intransigent of challenges," Philippine Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia said at this week's Ambassador's Forum at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
"As a treaty ally, the Philippines recognizes and accepts our important role in the re-balance to Asia," Cuisia stressed.
The Philippines relies heavily on US military assistance to modernize its decrepit arsenal. Two former US Coast Guard cutters now serve as the vanguard of the Philippine Navy’s increased presence in Scarborough Shoal and the Kalayaan Islands where they’re faced off with China and other countries with overlapping claims on the South China Sea.
Filipinos in America keep a deep, sustained connection to the Philippines. The largest chunk (nearly 43 percent) of the record $23.8 billion dollar remittances reported in 2012 came from Filipinos in the US.
"The Filipino American community in the US continues to help the Philippines not only because of sentimental attachments but because they want to see their mother country achieve economic progress," Navarra pointed said.
Most Filipinos in American feel proud that Obama is going to the Philippines and will meet with Aquino. It paints a reassuring picture of the close friendship between the two countries they call home.
So just how interwoven have ties between the US and Philippines evolved? Obama’s sojourn to Manila coincides with the celebration of Filipino American History Month here.