AS a nation experiencing a modern-day diaspora unheard of perhaps since the Jewish diaspora in the aftermath of World War II, how far and how long can the Philippines roll out the welcome mat to its growing number of former citizens who have chosen to permanently live abroad and assume the citizenship of their adopted countries?
I’m not referring to the kind of touristy welcome we so enthusiastically extend to foreigners every time they go on a holiday or set up businesses here in the Philippines. I’m referring to a more deep-seated and lasting welcome allowing former Filipinos such rights as voting, carrying at least two passports, and running businesses and owning property in the Philippines like locals do.
Moot and academic?
I guess my questions have all become “mute” and academic ever since the country passed a dual citizenship law some years back allowing former Filipinos to retain their Filipino citizenship (and the rights that go with it) despite having sworn allegiance to their adopted countries.
But, does such a law and the rights it bestows really serve the Philippines’ as well as Filipinos’ long-term interest? (Disclosure: My two siblings are naturalized US citizens who have yet to apply for dual citizenship.)
Won’t it create further economic division, say, between supposedly moneyed Filipino-Americans (feel free to supply your preferred new nationality) and the former countrymen they left behind? Put differently, is the law lopsided in favor of former Filipinos?
Thanks to a news report I saw on local TV soon after the just concluded Philippine midterm elections, my attention was drawn to the subject.
If I’m not mistaken, the Overseas Absentee Voting Act gives Filipinos abroad, both those who have retained their citizenship and those who are now proudly “hyphenated,” the right to vote in Philippine elections.
Telling bits of info
The brief news segment filed by a Filipino reporter based in New York offered telling bits of information that our lawmakers should look into in the near future.
I’m not aware of how many polling centers the Philippine government had set up in the US, arguably the country with the most number of Filipinos outside the Philippines, but the one in New York was open to both registered Filipinos and their hyphenated cousins.
I don’t begrudge true-blue Filipinos based abroad from exercising their right as well their duty to vote. It is with the other group, the hyphenated ones, that I’m having some difficulty understanding and accepting.
Although the Philippine government, in keeping with the law, did its part, turnout was very low in the New York polling center due to several reasons, said the report. One, elections of any kind, including the country’s very own presidential election, aren’t declared holidays in the US.
Since polling stations were few and far between, both Filipinos and Filipino-Americans who wanted to vote had to spend hours driving long distances to do so. That meant missing at least half a day of work.
But the biggest dampener, the same report revealed, was a seemingly onerous and laughable provision in the law requiring hyphenateds who chose to exercise their right to vote abroad to return and visit the Philippines within three years after voting. (I wouldn’t be surprised if our own Department of Tourism, in its bid to increase tourist arrivals, had a hand in inserting such a silly provision.)
How weird is that?
Failure to do so would make them liable for imprisonment should they make the mistake of visiting their land of birth after the three-year period. I told you the law’s weird.
This prompted a hyphenated Filipino woman interviewed in the report to say what was perhaps on everybody’s mind. Why would she vote if that would force her to make an unscheduled balikbayan (homecoming) to the Philippines within the next three years?
Besides, she and most fellow hyphenateds had plenty of stuff to do. In so many words, they would rather stay under the radar while minding their own businesses.
Had they interviewed me, however, I would have raised a far more plain but nonetheless valid question: why would a supposedly cash-strapped country like the
Philippines spend untold sums on such a poorly attended exercise abroad that reflects partly the will of people who have freely chosen to pledge their allegiance to a foreign country?
Am I being too harsh on our hyphenated kababayan (countrymen) now based outside the Philippines? I don’t think so.
These people, despite their origins, have made a choice, and it doesn’t involve in the least bit a sovereign nation like the Philippines. In spite of the fact that not a few of them help the economy by buying property, including real estate, and sending money to their relatives here, it can’t be denied that they’ve already given up their Filipino citizenship in favor of becoming Americans.
Global generation daw
And despite the so-called “global generation” a cantankerous (read: asshole) and self-righteous hyphenated Filipino living in Canada impressed upon me sometime earlier on Facebook, there’s no denying the truth that these people are now citizens of another country. In short, they’re now, for all intents and purposes, foreigners in their land of birth.
Of course, we welcome their remittances as well as their investments, but why give them the same recognition and benefits, including the right to carry and use a Philippine passport should it be expedient to them, that are supposed to be reserved to Filipinos?
If they become, say, hostages to terrorists abroad other than in their adopted countries, would that mean that the Philippine government is obligated to extricate them and come to their rescue?
If a war, no matter how unlikely, breaks out between the Philippines and America, whose side will they take? What if the US government, in a 21st-century fit of paranoia, rounds them up like pariahs in concentration camps, say, in California like what it did to Japanese-Americans during World War II? Is the Philippines expected to bring their case to the UN?
Earlier during the same day, I received heaps of unsolicited scorn from a fellow whom I learned later on through our common friend as a Filipino who immigrated to Canada. I was just being my exaggerated self when I tagged Ivy—our common friend—and said in my FB stat, echoing the latter’s cover photo, that people who don’t vote have effectively given up their right to complain.
Mind your own business, scratch your own…
I also raised a related point that “former” Filipinos who never run out of bad things to say (and there are many of them both here and abroad) on how we ought to conduct our affairs here should cease and desist from making unsolicited criticisms because they’ve already made a choice by embracing the laws, systems and citizenship of their new homes.
Since I tagged Ivy, her FB friends, including the fellow, saw and had access to reply to my stat. He lost no time defending his decision to immigrate. He also insisted, in so many words, that what he and others did was noble and worthy of praise. He said that he was just making the most out of the opportunity presented to him, and, that if I were in his place, I would have done the same.
Not content on making baseless assumptions about me,
(God, I don’t know nor even heard of the guy while he lived here) he even had the gall to insult me on my wall by saying that I was just probably being bitter and envious of people like them who were able to make the transition. In other words, I most likely don’t have the wherewithal and the smarts to be world-class like him.
In the middle of his litany of insults and diatribes against me, he once shifted gears by apologizing to me if he had “offended” my “ego.”
Rather than fight fire with fire (since I’ve reached a certain age, I promised myself to carefully choose my battles), I merely wrote a few tepid lines in response to his two long chunks of baseless attacks and self-righteous defense on why he should be accorded the best of both worlds—in his native Philippines and in his new fishing grounds in Canada: “It is not me whose ‘ego’ has been offended. From your long unsolicited answers, non sequiturs and the unfounded labels I’ve been getting for saying something on my mind on my wall, it seems it is the other way around.”
Disable feature complete
My belated attempt at disabling anyone other than my FB friends from making a response to that particular stat probably worked because I never heard from the guy again.
But secretly, I wish the pr-ck had voted in his neck of the woods and eventually fails to return to the Philippines within the next three years. If the Overseas Absentee Voting Act is true to its threat, it would effectively ban that fellow from ever returning to the Philippines unless he wants to spend some time in the slammer.
You certainly can’t have your buco (coconut) pie and eat it, too!