I would like to think it was a coincidence, but Wednesday afternoon – just about the time the dawning horror of a Trump victory was becoming apparent to all – saw me afflicted with a fast-moving flu virus that kept me in the house on Thursday.
With time on my hands but little energy, I spent part of the day browsing Facebook, and discovered something remarkable: Most Filipinos, it seems, are happy with the outcome of the election, and feel the impending era of The Donald will somehow benefit the Philippines. This is a dangerously naïve and unaccountable belief.
Before the election, I had written that whatever the outcome, there was likely to be little real change to the status quo between the US and the Philippines. But having watched the whole thing unfold on Wednesday, I have revised that outlook.
A full discussion of how and why Trump was able to win is a subject for a different venue, but there are a few points that should be highlighted here. First, it was a convincing win, and a strong example of American democracy at work. Yes, Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote by a narrow margin, but those who assert that calls into question the legitimacy or even just the strength of Trump’s victory do not understand how the electoral system works.
Second, Trump drew his support from two different segments of American society, which, taken together say something very alarming about the country and its outlook toward others. The man himself is an utter pig, openly sexist, racist, a greedy little hustler who owes what fortune he has (which isn’t nearly as much as he’d like everyone to believe) as much to skillful manipulation of bankruptcy laws and blatant tax fraud as to his supposed business acumen. Despite having won the presidency, he is set to stand trial for criminal fraud and rape charges (although to be fair, the latter may be a case of questionable validity), and is facing a number of civil cases as well. His core support comes from people with a similar outlook, although they may not be as individually horrible as he is—anti-immigration, anti-globalization, and completely okay with practicing various forms of discrimination.
A much larger group backing Trump are those who, despite knowing what he is and knowing that will be the basis of many of his policies, voted for him out of a reactionary desire for “change;” a statement that the socially and politically unacceptable is acceptable, if the trade-off is a leader who is not part of the “establishment.” The disturbing acceptance of policy shift was only reinforced by the so-called “down ballot” results, which saw the Republican party keep control of the House and Senate despite the almost total absence of an organized party-level campaign (which is usually run by the party’s presidential nominee).
All this has several negative implications for the Philippines, which the majority of Filipinos seem to be entirely clueless about at this point. Led by a President who made it a point to declare he wished to break economic and military ties with the US, the Philippines is not going to be looked upon favorably, no matter how much the country or its erratic leader now kowtows to The Donald. Immigration is the US president-elect’s priority issue; jobs and the economy seem to be the main concern of those who voted for him, all of which works against the Philippines. Contrary to popular belief here, the wider US population does not have some special appreciation for Filipinos; a significant number of Americans —significant enough to have just caused a political earthquake by expressing their democratic will —look upon Filipinos the same way they look on Mexicans, Salvadorans, Haitians: Little brown immigrants who take advantage of American generosity to steal jobs, even if those jobs are mostly things Americans do not want to do themselves. It is not a new perspective; all throughout American history, immigrants, despite being the backbone of the country, have been persecuted in one way or another until they become a part of the national fabric. Only now that persecution can become a part of national policy, something which has happened only rarely in American history.
Be that as it may, Trump is likely to find it harder than he realized to implement sweeping changes to immigration policy, but he doesn’t necessarily need to in order to make an impact; all he needs to do is firmly enforce existing laws, and deport all the illegal aliens. There are between 200,000 and 300,000 Filipinos among that group, about 10 percent of the total population of Filipinos and Filipino-Americans in the US.
The US accounts for about 43 percent of OFW remittances, which are on track to reach about $30 billion this year; a move by Trump to send home all those who have worn out their welcome would result in a drop in remittances of about $1.2 billion, and would, at least temporarily, drive up the Philippine unemployment rate by about 0.5 percent.
In terms of the other big driver of the Philippine economy, the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, there has been nothing positive in Trump’s policy indications so far—he has openly said he wants to “bring jobs back to America”— but again, he may find it difficult to do much to accomplish that. What he might be able to achieve with the help of a supportive Congress is stop the expansion overseas of US businesses, which for the Philippines means the BPO sector may have hit its high-water mark. Given the huge investment in time and resources to set up a BPO operation, it is unlikely that the ones who are already here will pull up the stakes and leave; but the Trump perspective, coupled with Duterte’s ill-timed expressions of anti-American sentiments, means that the American BPO businesses —the overwhelming majority of the sector here—will not expand.
The third area where Trump’s victory will hurt the Philippines is in trade. Trump and leading Republicans have already made it clear that the US will not ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, which the Philippines has aspired to join with ambition bordering on desperation for several years. The TPP may move forward in abbreviated form (Japan ratified it earlier this week), but without US participation, its value will be greatly diminished.
Beyond that, the US is the destination for about 14 percent of Philippine exports. Some of those products, which are traded on a preferential basis, face a strong lobby in the US; sugar is one very good example. The Philippines ships about 135,000 metric tons of sugar to the US under a low-tariff scheme, which has been protested for years by the American sugar industry. They could very well find a sympathetic ear in Donald Trump, which would have unpleasant ramifications for the Philippines sugar sector. Other major exports such as apparel, leather goods, computer and electronic components, and seafood could similarly be at risk.