The following is a discussion guide for Filipinos in the US, in the Philippines, and throughout the diaspora on the US Presidential Elections of 2008. It is not meant only for members of BAYAN USA, but for all members of the global Filipino community.
Q. What does the U.S. election coverage mean for the Philippine movement?
A. At present, the U.S. presidential nomination process will result in candidates that would not dramatically change the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippine government. For instance, there is no strong antiwar candidate in this election.
The candidates of the Republican and Democratic Parties are selected and nominated through a process going from January to June involving primary elections in the 50 states (and the District of Columbia), state caucuses, state caucuses, and state conventions. The state primaries and caucuses are a formal process for the major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates to determine how will assert control over their respective party machinery, finance, and platform.
If a Republican Party candidate wins, he (currently all men) would modify in minor ways the U.S.-Philippine relations. If a Democratic Party candidates wins, he or she would also modify in minor ways the U.S.-Philippine relations. Some might hope that a Democratic win would open up for more independent possibilities for social justice. Still, the record of the Democratic Party shows that it would promote a kinder (and hidden as yet as effective) version of national security, surveillance, and restriction on civil and human rights.
Whoever wins, Filipinos will not benefit, nor will other places where the U.S. has its troops, security agents, and corporate interest.
We think that the U.S. political elite in charge of both parties is incapable of offering any serious alternative and does not represent the interest of the American working people including U.S. Filipinos.
Q. How do we make sense of the news coverage of the U.S. presidential nomination process?
A. The media has been attempting to make sense of U.S. voters’ sentiments and declare early on a frontrunner in a period of weak U.S. national leadership and economic crisis.
The day-to-day media coverage of the early state primaries and state caucuses (such as in Iowa and New Hampshire) strives to determine which candidate would stay or drop out of the nomination process. The early wins in state primaries and state caucuses often get substantial financial contributions and important endorsements.
Surveyed U.S. voters are blaming the current economic crisis and global war on President Bush and U.S. Congress. With this context, U.S. voters lack clear options in who would provide national leadership to address their concerns. A good number remains not solidly aligned with any of the major candidates of the two major political parties.
Voters express that the presidential and congressional leadership are weak and ineffective in addressing deployment of U.S. troops around the world, in addressing middle-class and working-class fear regarding rising personal economic instability and increasing cost of housing, healthcare and education relative to wages.
The dominant news industry is also in crisis, given the increasing forms of liberal and conservative media voices available on the internet and multimedia outlets for potential voters. In response, news media are seeking to create tactical alliances with new media outlets or simply to buy them out. With the expanding media “noise” on the US election, voters tend politically to ignore dominant media messages (as evident in ratings) and to distrust the confusing messages of the candidates.
Q. Do the U.S. presidential candidates present change in policies?
The message of the U.S. presidential candidates is of change. Yet substantively, their policies are similar.
On Republican Party Candidates
The Republican Party candidates have to distance themselves from U.S. President Bush without showing significant splits among the Republicans. The electoral primary and caucus system allows the candidates to show how effective they are to mobilize their constituencies. In the 2004 election, Bush was able to galvanize in local levels the religious Christian Right, nativists, middle-class “soccer moms,” social, economic, and national security conservatives, and big business sectors (particularly, those connected with the oil and natural resources industry and the defense and security industry). The current top Republican candidates have not been replicated the same political coalition.
Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney comes closes to Bush in potential ability to forge such coalition, however his support for women's right to abortion, seriously limits an easy win of his party nomination.
Republican Party candidate Mike Huckabee takes a clear religiously conservative stance, but does not have a record of fiscal conservatism (i.e. he raised taxes when he was governor of Arkansas). He has made a racist statement on undocumented Pakistanis in the U.S. and the need to enhance the security of the U.S. border.
Republican candidates Rudolph Giuliani and John McCain take a strong national security and anti-crime stance (often targeting poor, racial, and immigrant groups), yet social conservatives are displeased with Giuliani’s and McCain’s record on immigration (co-authoring the HR 4437 compromise bill) and other issues. Giuliani supports the continued use of water cure torture techniques by U.S. security forces, which was employed by the U.S. Army on Filipinos during the Philippine-U.S. War. While he was a staff of the U.S. Attorney General, Giuliani wrote the indictment against former Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos regarding illegally acquired real estate in Manhattan.
Other Republican candidates Ron Paul and Fred Thompson may be viable yet have not been to solidify their constituency at a national level. Paul has a libertarian tendency politically, meaning that he believes in reducing the power of government over corporations and individuals. While he opposes U.S. military intervention, he supports the expansion of U.S. big business interests in the guise of increasing global free trade. Lawyer, former U.S. senator, and actor-turned-candidate Thompson has significant political experience in shaping U.S. policy on national security and foreign policy. He chaired the U.S. State Department International Security Advisory Board. He advocated the invasion of Iraq and increased militarization of the U.S. border as part of his immigration platform.
On the Democratic Party Candidates
The top Democratic Party candidates take pride in possibly ending the Republican control of the White House. And yet these candidates' voting records on national defense, the federal budget, and major issues in Congress often supported the President. Still these candidates draw fierce anti-Bush crowds in public engagements.
Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton emerges from the political coattail of her husband and previous President Bill Clinton, while creating a new breed of Democratic Party political direction. This direction would promote the expansion of neoliberalism* in U.S. and international policies. Hillary Clinton’s pro-war stance limits her ability to forge quickly a new unity within her party under the leadership of pro-middle-class women's liberal politics. The political machinery of Hillary Clinton has been using key state-level individuals and sectoral formations (such as women’s and ethnic Democratic Party organizations) in her Party to project strong local support. In effect, her campaign gets the media to report on the endorsement of middle-class and well-off U.S. Filipinos (such as Loida Lewis who was National Chair of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, Charmaine Manansala, Irene Natividad, Henry Manayan, Mona Pasquil, and Alice Bulos) who have been entrenched in her Party for decades.
Democratic Party candidate John Edwards takes a clear anti-big business stance and attempts to become the standard-bearer in progressive electoral politics. He apologized for his support and Senate vote for the war on Iraq in 2002. Yet his solidly liberal message fails to galvanize the Democratic Party constituency early in the nomination process. Edwards co-sponsored the Filipino Veterans Benefits Improvement Act of 2001 (S.1042), which did not pass.
Democratic candidate Barack Obama represents himself as a change candidate by drawing on his popularity as an African American senator, often following the Democratic Party line. Yet he missed in voting on 38 percent of proposed bills during the most recent Senate year. He did support continuing US war in Iraq and other areas. While member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Obama co-sponsored the Filipino Veterans Equity Act of 2007 (S.57). Recently he has gain in endorsement of unions representing maids, porters, and cleaners working in Nevada's casinos and restaurants (a good number of them are Filipinos).
Q. What should Filipinos do?
A. While the large majority of Filipinos in the United States and abroad still believe in the electoral process as a means of drawing in social change, we in BAYAN USA and allied organizations believe US electoral politics is a showdown between warring factions between the US political elite for power, and has no effect on the lives of common working people.
We must continue to engage our compatriots that believe in and/or participate in electoral politics tactfully and without isolating ourselves by dismissing elections all together. Remember, one use of the electoral process is to further divide the US political clans and win temporary concessions for oppressed peoples. But real power must be yielded from the streets rather than through voting for the right candidate. We must continue to educate our compatriots on the primacy of the mass movement in drawing more substantial change.
While not proving that any of them actually hold strong differences in position, a change in seat in the White House holds little promise for change in US domestic and global politics. Either way, US imperialism will still lord over the peoples of the Third World, most especially the Philippines. This is why national liberation movements of countries such as the Philippines must continue to intensify, no matter who wins the US Presidential elections of 2008. Philippine presidents that are puppets to the United States government and protect its interests, such as Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, must be removed from office.
We believe in order to gain the social reforms we seek as a people, as an immigrant community of color in the United States and as a nation in the Philippines, power must rest not only in the hands of political clans, but in the common people themselves.
As proven throughout history, most notably with the Black Civil Rights Movement, the Immigrant Rights Movement, and EDSA’s 1 and 2, the substantial change in society can only be drawn through arduous and massive people’s struggle, the seeds of which are community organizing.
We encourage all Filipinos to join social justice organizations that help to raise the consciousness of our people and empower them to challenge the status quo through mobilization and street power. We believe it is the common people, not candidates representing the elite, that will ultimately change our society.
* neoliberalism- a label for economic liberalism that describes government policies aiming to promote free competition among business firms within market, notably liberalization and monetarism; a form of US imperialism that denationalizes economies through US economic intervention.