WASHINGTON D.C. - When President Aquino makes a late morning visit to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, there’ll be one question likely to occupy his anticipated pitch for the Save the Industries Act or the SAVE Act – how hard are the 4 million Filipinos in the United States pushing the bill?
The SAVE Act pending in the US Congress will provide duty-free access to the US of Philippine-made garments which used American materials. promising to generate thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in export revenues on both sides of the Pacific.
Philippine Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. has focused on passage of the bill, personally meeting with American lawmakers and trade groups. He has lined up the support of about a dozen key legislators but has also been pressing the Fil-Am community to throw their support for the bill.
The SAVE Act is today the single biggest item in the Philippine agenda in Washington, next only to the World War II veterans issue.
“It is crucial that Filipino-Americans be heard by the US Congress to ensure SAVE’s passage this year,” he exhorted.
President Aquino will meet with the Fil-Am community here on Wednesday evening but his schedule does not include a Q & A portion that is almost a staple for visiting dignitaries from the Philippines.
Some community leaders believe he will likely spend as much time explaining his anti-corruption agenda as making a pitch for the SAVE Act.
Filipinos today comprise the 2nd biggest Asian American group, next only to the Chinese. The 2010 Census showed 2.5 million people identified themselves as “Filipino alone” – a 38% jump from a decade ago – but excludes “Mixed Race Filipino”. When taken together, the actual number could reach 3.5 million, according to the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA).
There are hundreds of Fil-Am organizations spread across the nation, from Alabama to Wisconsin. They represent virtually all the regional groupings in the Philippines, sometimes multiplied several times over in one area. Some say this is a commentary of the Filipinos’ disunity and parochial interests.
And many of these organizations are nothing more than social clubs, mobilized for raising funds to help indigents or calamity victims in their respective provinces back home.
Very few are structured for advocacy or political action like the Chinese or Indian Americans.
Although less than half of Asian Americans cast their vote in the 2008 elections, Fil-Am organizations have lagged behind politically vis-à-vis their number.
“There’s so many of us,” says Helen Sadorra, president of the Baltimore-based Fil-Am group Katipunan, “it seems now is the time to unify.”
“It’s tough,” she added. And the irony is not lost especially among Americans.
“There are thousands of Filipino organizations but very few working together,” US Ambassador to the Philippines Harry Thomas Jr. remarked at a recent meeting with the Fil-Am community here.
“It’s great to have them but there’s very little coordination,” he added. Thomas drew a contrast with the Indian American community that works closely with the New Delhi government to influence policies in diaspora-destination countries like the US.
Lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Fairfax, Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), said it was time for the Philippines to wean away from exporting its skilled workers to prop up the economy.
“MHC reiterates our call to focus at developing local industries by promoting science and research instead of relying on labor export to sustain the economy,” he said in a statement on the eve of President Aquino’s visit to Washington.
“The massive job termination of about 1,000 Filipino teachers in Prince George’s county in Maryland should be a wake-up call that labor export is not a sustainable paradigm,” he added.
The SAVE Act fits the MHC’s call because if passed, it could create or preserve as many as half a million jobs in the Philippines. If passed, it will be the first trade agreement between the Philippines and US in nearly 40 years.
Cuisia revealed that while the Fil-Am community’s response to the SAVE Act has been encouraging “there’s still much more that can be done”.
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