FOR the first time, Filipinos are looking at the US presidential elections with the sitting Filipino President included in the equation.
Business process outsourcing (BPO) worker Charmin Cheng, 26, is rooting for frontrunner Hillary Clinton, amid the increasing anti-American tirades of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Cheng, who said her BPO career had been rewarding for her family, was bracing herself for any impact on the industry whatever happens to Philippines-US relations after the polls.
“I have my options. We should always be prepared for what other ventures to undertake,” she said in an interview.
BPO companies, many of which are American-owned, brought in $22 billion in revenues and employed over a million workers in the Philippines last year.
The result of the US elections will have either a positive or negative effect on the Philippines, according to analysts, unlike previous elections in which observers did not foresee significant shifts in relations between the two countries whoever the winner was.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican bet Donald Trump are facing off for the presidency of the world’s largest economy.
Jose Cuisia Jr., former Philippine ambassador to Washington, said Clinton, the former secretary of State and chief architect of the outgoing Obama administration’s so-called “pivot” to Asia, has “a far better understanding of foreign policy than Trump.”
Moreover, she is capable of maintaining ties between Manila and Washington that have somewhat frayed under President Duterte.
“Precisely, she understands the importance of maintaining these relations with many countries,” Cuisia said. “In my view, it will be to the interest of the Southeast Asian region and the Philippines in particular if Hillary Clinton will be the next president of the United States.”
Richard Javad Heydarian, a political science professor at De La Salle University, said a Clinton mandate could help clear the air in bilateral relations.
“The US cannot do anything drastic. Everyone is just scratching their heads right now. If Hillary comes into the picture, at least in her first 100 days, expect some clarity with how the US will move towards the Duterte administration and accordingly, there could be an adjustment or recalibration on both sides,” Heydarian said.
Cuisia said there would probably be “better rapport” between Clinton and Duterte even if the latter wants to alter the decades-old alliance between the US and the Philippines.
The two countries inked a Mutual Defense Treaty in 1951, a Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998 and an Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2014, allowing yearly joint military exercises that Duterte wants to restrict.
In a speech in Beijing last month, Duterte announced his foreign policy “separation” from the US, but later clarified that it did not mean cutting off diplomatic ties with the Western superpower.
“Hillary is a very experienced diplomat. She will handle it herself very properly, very appropriately,” Cuisia said.
Heydarian noted, however, that Clinton is a known activist and could be expected to be tough on human rights issues, placing her at odds with Duterte who had hurled expletives at overseas critics of his government’s bloody anti-drug campaign.
Still, Clinton, a former senator and first lady, “can better manage Duterte,” he said.
“She’s a politician. She knows how to deal with treaty allies. As a secretary of State, she has dealt with difficult allies like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, a lot of Middle Eastern countries which are undemocratic, uncooperative,” Heydarian said.
Trump will create a tremendous amount of uncertainty if he clashes with Duterte, he said.
“Having someone like Donald Trump with Duterte may not be the best mix. Because you have two very strong characters who are known to be quite mercurial in their own ways. I don’t think Donald Trump has the patience …. He makes radical responses which may escalate the situation from bad to worse,” Heydarian said.
Gerard Causon, a Filipino physical therapist in New York, is not satisfied with both candidates.
Hoping for better healthcare and affordable insurance premiums, the 40-year-old expressed dismay because Clinton or Trump “do not really represent any concrete agenda that will make a difference with the current economic situation here in the US, especially in the area of healthcare.”
But if he has to choose, he will likely go for Clinton, saying that Trump, who has promised to strictly enforce immigration laws at the border and the workplace, would imperil the status of migrant workers in the US.
“Trump will bring chaos to immigration, especially those undocumented Filipinos here in the US,” he says. “[Clinton] has an immigration plan that leads to legalization of undocumented immigrants.”
The Philippines is the largest recipient of remittances from the US in the Asia Pacific, accounting for as much as 3.3 percent of the domestic economy. Overseas Filipino workers sent home money worth nearly $26 billion last year. The US accounted for more than $8 billion of the total.
Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, chairman of the Senate economic affairs committee, said Trump was pursuing an “inward policy” that could be detrimental to the Philippines.
“Somehow the Americans are now equating a lot of their economic and security problems to immigration that has been the sole platform of Trump,” he said.
Recently, the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (AmCham) was reported as saying American businesses were unnerved by Duterte’s sentiments against the US.
AmCham’s Ebb Hinchliffe had said at least three trade delegations consisting of technology, financial services and manufacturing companies had canceled trips to the Philippines and at least two American firms had chosen to do business in other countries instead.
The US is one of the largest foreign investors in the Philippines, and is the Philippines’ third-largest trading partner; the stock of US foreign direct investment stands above $4.7 billion, according to the US Embassy in Manila.
“The United States and the Philippines share a strong and deeply rooted commercial partnership,” the embassy’s deputy press attaché Emma Nagy said. “Some of the largest employers in the Philippines are United States companies, which are providing Filipinos with high-quality jobs,” she said.
The Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said government policymakers were working to make the economy resilient enough to absorb any shocks that the change in US administration could cause.
These measures include luring other markets to invest in the country and training people for jobs beyond the BPO industry, such as manufacturing and tourism, said BSP Governor Amando Tetangco Jr.