Filipino community leaders in Hong Kong leading the drive for Overseas Absentee Voting (OAV) have been finding more apathy than enthusiasm for the political exercise these days. Unlike in 2004 when the OAV was initiated, where registration and voting were enthusiastic, there is a general disillusionment today among overseas Filipino workers. The “walang nagbago(nothing has changed)” attitude prevails, with migrant workers feeling that their concerns have not been met by the Aquino administration, which most of them had backed.
The 2013 midterm elections seem irrelevant for many, more so after learning that some members of the Ampatuan clan are running under President Aquino’s Liberal Party. With the 2009 massacre case dragging in court and three witnesses for the prosecution assassinated, the outrage that the culture of impunity still remains has deepened. Hope for justice for the deaths of 58 people including media workers and private citizens continues to fade. And even though the much admired bachelor President has kept his promise to combat corruption by having former President Gloria Arroyo indicted, his reported refusal to heed doctors’ calls to shed his tobacco habit makes him less admirable to his kababayan seeking a role model. In fact, it seems that Psy of Gangnam Style fame is more of an inspiration to ever-cheerful Pinoys abroad.
What’s been equally interesting for the OFWs is watching the citizens of Hong Kong embroiled in a political struggle entirely different from that in Manila. Hongkongers today have been vocally resentful of their motherland’s tightening its grip over this enclave. The peculiar arrangement made for the territory after the 1997 colonial handover by Britain—whereby Hong Kong continues with the status quo for 50 years in a policy called “One country, two systems”—has produced a number of controversies about the limits of its freedoms. The main one involved the new administration’s attempt to impose a “National Education” subject into the school curriculum, which was seen as a kind of communist brainwashing of students. The political scene today is so dysfunctional, Hong Kong may go the way of Taiwan where the majority want autonomy for their island-state.
The protests denouncing Beijing’s perceived interference in Hong Kong affairs has resulted in some factions brandishing the old colonial flag during their rallies. The organizers claim they’re not calling for independence or a return of the British, just true autonomy. This prompted a Beijing official to label the protesters “sheer morons,” with another warning that the movement may be “spreading like a virus.”
By comparison, Pinoys may feel justifiable pride at being the first nation to gain its independence in Asia, but it’s a tattered type of hubris, with the profound dissatisfaction over the country’s political and economic elite. But even when the future doesn’t look particularly rosy for the OFWs, they, unlike those Hongkongers feeling nostalgic for British rule, do not hanker for the days of American colonialism. There may be many with emigrant relatives in the United States who hope to join the diaspora, but that aspiration remains low. Today’s OFWs view Canada as a more hospitable host-nation (as well as Australia and Europe where many Pinays link up with Western men seeking pliant Asian mates). The American Dream no longer seems to loom as large for Pinoys—unlike, say, that time when a movement called “Philippine Statehood USA” claimed to have seven million members pushing to join the Union. At the time many thought of those as a lunatic fringe.
In Hong Kong the feeling against China was articulated by Dickson Cheung, who said, “We’re Hongkongians, not Chinese.” He even set up a Facebook page for his movement and was quoted in the South China Morning Post as calling for Chinese tourists to be banned from the city for “disturbing much of our order and culture.” He wants all exchanges with the mainland cut off, reflecting his members’ mistrust of Beijing for having reneged on its promise to grant the territory universal suffrage. Other gripes include China’s refusal to acknowledge the Tiananmen massacre. Cheung capped his manifesto by saying Hong Kong’s economy “won’t suffer because it is a city that faces the whole world, not the so-called motherland.”
There may be no outside power subverting Philippine sovereignty, but China’s territorial aims are more of a danger than the traces of a colonial hangup vis-à-vis the United States. The disenchantment over Manila’s leaders and political system continues to erode patriotic feelings. While Pinoys at home continue displaying resilience over the continuing manmade and natural disasters, the long-suffering OFWs’ hopes for a better future may need to be deferred for some time to come.
Isabel Escoda is a freelance journalist based in Hong Kong.