Fil-Am organization pushes for increased voter turnout through civic engagement

Members of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) during the launching of the Fil-Am Vote program in San Diego on Feb. 25. The program aims to increase voter turnout through civic engagement

By Anna Ven Sobrevinas

SAN DIEGO — It’s presidential election season again for Filipino-Americans both back home and in the United States.

Whether it’s Miriam Santiago or Hillary Clinton; Rodrigo Duterte or Donald Trump, the voting power of each respective country’s citizens are once again the sole positive catalyst towards change.

“It is generally known that Asian Americans are the fastest growing voters in the United States today,” according to JT Mallonga, chairman of the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA). “They are emerging as a key block that could significantly influence national and local elections in the coming years.”

In San Diego, the Filipino population is 194,000 yet there are only 42,000 registered voters.

For NaFFAA, it’s an unacceptable situation that needs aggressive solutions.

NaFFAA’s “Fil-Am Vote” program aims to engage and inform Filipino-Americans into participating in the November 2016 US elections through four methods: voter registration, voter education, voter protection and the Get-Out-The-Vote program (GOTV).

National Fil-Am Vote Executive Director Juanito Amor Jr. said by increasing the voting turnout of Filipino-Americans, not only will voices be heard, but a big difference will be made as well on who will be the next leader of the nation.

“I hope we will (get) more than 50 percent (voters) in our community this election,” said Amor. “Voter turnout is still very low for us. One out of four Filipinos are registered but only three out of seven are voting.”

Divided into 13 regions nationwide, the Fil-Am Vote was launched in San Diego (Region 10) on February 25, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the People Power Revolution.

“That historic moment taught the world what people can do collectively to assert their democratic rights to vote, fight against election fraud and ensure that the people’s will is carried out,” said Amor. “Fil-Am Vote, therefore, draws from the energy, inspiration, passion and courage of the millions of Filipinos who used the ballot box to make their voices heard. Despite the threat by an authoritarian regime to suppress their right to participate in the electoral process, the Filipino people stood up to make sure each vote counted.”

According to the 2008 US Census Bureau, some of the reasons people do not register to vote are a lack of interest in the election and politics, difficulty with English and thinking their vote would not make a difference. Meanwhile, some of the reasons for not voting are conflicting schedules, registration issues and disinterest in the candidates and campaign issues.

The four methods are preceded by forming a nonpartisan Fil-Am Vote program in a respective region, selecting a program coordinator, preparing ideas and strategies then promoting the program through advertising, word of mouth and the press.

Voter registration familiarizes members with registration laws and procedures such as June 7 as the primary presidential election in California; voter education promotes knowledge such as specific states’ Voter Bill of Rights.

Voter protection informs members of what constitutes voter harassment, such as intimidation and denial of provisional ballots. Lastly, GOTV is to increase voter awareness in ways such as providing voting assistance and repeated personal contact in person, by mail or by phone.

San Diego is Republican territory, with 103,790 versus 60,148 Democrats as of February 29, 2016. On the other hand, San Francisco is overwhelmingly blue, with 249,720 Democrats versus 35,696 Republicans as of March 19, 2016.

Latino voters in San Diego are 274,285; Filipino voters are 42,433. San Francisco has 5,566 Latino voters while Filipinos are 1,249.

Note that the data above are not the total voter counts–most of them are counted through the number of requested voting material in Filipino or Spanish.

Despite the immigration issues surrounding the presidential election, Amor thinks Filipinos are unaffected by it due to lack of awareness on immigration issues and seeing it as taboo.

“We have the ‘Bahala na ang Diyos’ mentality and we have discomfort with the immigration issue,” he said. “We are like ‘shhh’ because we may get chismis from our family members, friends and community about it.”

Some Republicans disagree, in particular, with Trump’s immigration stance.

Rupert Ramirez, a Republican and licensed vocational nurse in Oceanside, California, said he doesn’t like Trump and might cross over to Clinton but still with reservations.

“Hillary has ties with the Benghazi issue, normal military personnel affected with the issue will be imprisoned,” said Ramirez. “It’s not fair that Hillary hasn’t been penalized for those emails. A lot died because of her neglect.”

Francis Laugo, an engineering student at San Jose State University, thinks Trump’s business background can be good for the country.

“If a CEO can make good business deals then he would be a good CEO,” said Laugo. “But then being a president has to mean more than that. You are being looked at in a world stage. So in regards to the image he is portraying with Mexico, I don’t like that so I’m voting for someone else.”

Amor says the community needs to be nudged to vote.

“Voting starts with you,” he said. “Register and Vote. Voting is good for our family, friends and our community. Together, we count. Panahon na!”