MANILA, Philippines - President Benigno Aquino III on Sunday (Monday in Manila) urged the overseas Filipino community in the United States to unite as one in order to become a stronger political force in the country.
Speaking before a town hall meeting in California, Aquino said Filipinos are the 2nd biggest migrant population in Asia but added that "we lack unity in the community."
He said if the estimated 4 million Filipinos in the US would band together, the group would be a sizeable lobby that could be effective during election time.
Aquino tackled mostly concerns of overseas Filipinos during the hour-long town hall meeting, which was viewed live by studio audiences in Dubai, Canada, Japan and the United Kingdom.
Asked if he would consider putting up a department focused solely on overseas Filipino workers, the President said government agencies such as the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration already do that type of work.
"It would be a failure for the country if people keep leaving. They have to leave by choice, not because they have no choice," he added.
Asked about a crackdown on illegal Pinoys in the UK, the President said he will ask for data from the Philippine ambassador so that it can be properly addressed to the foreign ministry.
For US-based Pinoys eager to register in the next election, Aquino said he will ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to expand its "Consul-on-Wheels" program and modify the time period for registration to allow more Filipinos to register.
He told Dubai-based Filipinos that he is targeting human trafficking syndicates and prioritizing the cases of Filipinos on death row "because their needs are the most urgent."
School for Japan-based Pinoys?
Joseph Banal of the Philippine Assistance Group, meanwhile, asked Aquino if he would consider putting up an international school for Filipino children in Japan. He said there is a sizable population of Filipino kids in Japan and a lot of qualified Filipino teachers there who could teach the children.
Aquino said it was the first time that he has heard that there were a lot of Filipino children in Japan. He said he will ask Education Secretary Armin Luistro to study the proposal and see if the Philippine government owns land or property that could be used for that purpose.
He also noted that putting up even a grade school in Japan would need a budget, adding that there was very little left of the nation's budget for the rest of the year.
Aquino also defended the need to cut the budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs especially for legal representation of overseas Filipinos.
He said his administration is spending more on a conditional cash transfer project that is projected to reach 2.3 million of the poorest Filipino families in the Philippines.
"We have to help those with the most immediate need," he said.
$2.8-B in investments
Aquino refused to give himself a grade for his accomplishments during his 7-day working visit in the US, saying that he had been taught by his parents to be humble.
"Baka mabatukan pa ako," he said.
He, however, added that he is bringing home more than $2.8 billion in investments include a $434 million grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation and jobs from 3 US firms.
He also cited positive indicators in the local economy such as improved employment, a robust stock market and an oversubscribed global peso bond.
"If I leave the country a little better than when I left it, then I would have accomplished much," he said.