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April 13, 2007

This is probably a first in the history of mankind.

More than 10% of Philippine population of 89.5 million are in Diaspora.  We are working in various capacities all over the world. We have remitted US$15 billion to the homeland in 2005, according to the London-based Economist, an amount which is equivalent to 15.2% of Philippine Domestic Product for that year. Two-thirds of our people rely on us. Obviously, under normal circumstances, we should be given a little importance.

The powerful people in the Philippines cannot just consign us to a position as a lucrative and dependable source of Philippine foreign exchange to help stabilize our economy.

As a matter of fairness and in the national interest, we have to be represented in the affairs of government. When there is massive and legitimate dissatisfaction with the quality of national leadership and system of governance, our people can no longer continue to mass by the millions on a major street in Metro Manila like what happened in 1986 and 2001, in EDSA I and EDSA II, to demand that presidents depart from Malacañang.  Resorting to “direct democracy” through mass actions can no longer guarantee a peaceful change in power.  The potential risks have become deadly.

Consequently, less dramatic and less potentially dangerous was the enactment of two legislations by the Philippine Congress affecting overseas Filipinos. In 2003 a law allowing “Dual Citizenship”, Republic Act 9225, was passed.  It allowed natural-born Filipino citizens who may have lost their Philippine citizenship due to naturalization as citizens of a foreign country to re-acquire their Philippine citizenship.  As of January 2007, the Bureau of Immigration had approved the application for dual citizenship of more than 24,000 former Filipinos.

In the same year, the Overseas Absentee Voting Law (OAVL) was also enacted.  This law allows qualified Filipinos outside of the homeland to exercise their right of suffrage.

The latest figure from the Philippine Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of Foreign Affairs indicate that some 504,000 Filipinos have registered as Overseas Absentee Voters.

It is noteworthy that based on the available data, in North and South America as of January 19, 2007, the Consulate General in San Francisco tops the list of the number of registered absentee voters at 4,800 out of a total of 13,083. For the same period, Los Angeles recorded 154 and Honolulu 20. Needless to say, the figures in these two cities are dismal, considering the great number of Filipinos in those places.

The San Francisco Consulate General also accounts for some 6,500 Dual Citizens out of the 24,000 or so all over the world.  This is more than 27% of the total world wide. In fact, about 50 Filipino-Americans are sworn in as Filipino citizens every week.

Participation in Philippine governance by exercising the right of suffrage is one way of being involved more closely in the affairs of the homeland. The Overseas Absentee Voters and the Dual Citizens who have registered to vote can help in the selection of the more qualified and competent legislators.  It is unfortunate, however, that the right of suffrage is confined to voting for President, Vice President, Senators, and Party List representatives. Overseas Absentee Voters would prefer to vote for their congressmen and governors because they have a direct impact on their hometowns and communities more than senators and Party List representatives.

Aside from participating in the election of their Senators, Party List Congressmen, Presidents and Vice Presidents, there is now an intensifying clamor among the 10 million Filipinos all over the world that they should have the right to be voted on as candidates for political offices without renouncing their other citizenship. It is argued that the right to vote implies the corresponding right to be voted on.  If one is a dual citizen of, say, the United States and the Philippines, and US laws do not prohibit Philippine citizenship while retaining American citizenship, Global Filipino Nation advocates such as Dr. Jose V. Abueva, Victor Barrios, Lito Gutierrez, Carmen Colet, Evelio Flores, Aida Barrios, Morgan Benedicto, University of San Francisco Professor Jun Jun Villegas of the Global Filipinos Coalition, UP lawyers Johannes Ignacio and May Ann Teodoro, journalists such as Greg Makabenta and Perry Diaz in the United States, and other concerned civic Filipino leaders all over the world such as Bong Amora, Sultan Rudy Dianalan, Bong Karno, Gerry Cuares in the Middle East, and Jun Aguilar and Leo Santiago whose network extend to sailors and Filipino workers all over the world, passionately argue that dual citizens should have the right to be candidates for political office or to be appointed to public offices in the Philippines.

This advocacy is now being hotly contested in the Philippines.  Theodore Makabulos Aquino or Kuya Ted, a nephew of the assassinated martyr Ninoy Aquino, who is both a Filipino and an American citizen has filed his certificate of candidacy as an independent candidate for Senator this May 14, 2007 election. A graduate of the University of the Philippines, president of the UP Alumni Association of America, a volunteer in the Transfer of Knowledge and Technology program to the Philippines of the United Nations Development Program, an engineering and environmental consultant in America, the Comelec has disqualified his candidacy because he has not renounced his American citizenship.  A request for reconsideration has been submitted. As we go to press, a decision is now being awaited.  If the decision is adverse, then off to the Philippine Supreme Court it will be.  It is imperative that the highest court in the land should rule on this critical issue.

In these critical times when mankind is faced with the deadly challenges of terrorism, global warming, globalization, intensifying poverty, environmental degradation, revolutionary movements, and hunger in the Philippines, our leaders cannot continue to lean on traditional and hackneyed ideas of citizenship and political participation. In California, the eight largest economy in the world, Governor Arnold Schwarzenneger is not only a dual citizen.  He is a Triple Citizen.  He is American, Austrian, and European Union Citizen. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is a dual citizen.  He is American and Mexican. The Philippines needs to take this “New Reality”, in the words of Mr. Robert Ceralvo, an outstanding Filipino and IT engineer, into consideration.

In addition to the foregoing types of representation, the Philippines can learn from the system in Italy.  Italians who are outside of Italy, those in what are known as “Foreign Constituencies”, are represented in the Italian legislature.  Six senators and twelve deputies represent these “Foreign Constituencies” in the Italian legislature.

After the election on May 14, it is more or less certain that the issue of Charter Change will be addressed again.  We are not familiar with all the details of the draft Philippine Constitution that the House of Representatives wanted to impose on the Filipino people.  Whatever it is, the 10 million Filipinos can no longer be regarded as just brutalized and maligned domestic helpers and exploited Filipinos.  They have every right to participate in shaping the kind of society that their fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, relatives, and fellow Filipinos are hoping for – the dream of a progressive, peaceful, respectable, and just Philippine society.  They are paying with their lives, with their misery, with their pain for this dream.

[Published in the April 2007 issue of The Filipino Insider, a monthly supplement of the San Francisco Chronicle. The author was a former faculty member of the University of the Philippines Department of Political Science. He can be reached at Cesar1185@aol.com.]

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