WE ARE STILL FILIPINO: China’s Invasion, the 2022 Presidential Elections, And Why Filipinos Abroad Need to Vote
by Yanan Melo
Growing up, the sea was my best friend. My family and I used to visit Macajalar Bay, at the edge of Cagayan de Oro city, to enjoy the embrace of our nation’s beloved waters. But even more than enjoyment, the Macajalar Bay was home to fisherfolk and provided the resources their families needed to survive.
Our waters are precious to us. In fact, many people groups in the Philippines are named after local water bodies, such as the Tagalog (“from the river”), the Ilocano (“from the bay”), and the Maranao (“from Lake Lanao”). Water matters to Filipinos, and to many of our indigenous cultures, local identity cannot be separated from the presence of our water bodies.
However, we know China has been invading our seas, particularly the West Philippine Sea (WPS), and our current administration has not been taking this matter seriously. Until today, President Duterte’s oath to plant the Philippine flag on the islands of the WPS remains an empty promise. Just recently, Rappler reported that over 200 Chinese seacrafts were spotted drifting through our beloved waters. China is stealing the WPS and its natural resources from our people, and it is evident that President Duterte allowed this to happen as he said in 2019, “As far as I’m concerned, I’m the owner, and I’m just giving the fishing rights.”
We cannot remain uninformed and uninvolved. Such “fishing rights” are now leaving many families destitute. According to experts, the invasion will cause food shortages, over 600 million dollars annually in reef damages, and the loss of over 600,000 jobs. China’s invasion in the WPS is not a joking matter, but a serious tragedy that is happening right in our backyard. Indeed, with only a few months left to register, the presidential election next year is swiftly approaching, and it is crucial that Filipinos remain educated about such matters to inform the proper vote.
However, for diasporic Filipinos (i.e., Overseas Filipino Workers, international students, second generation immigrants, etc.), remaining involved in the lives and experiences of our sisters and brothers in the homeland is a complex matter. As an international student in the United States, this is a problem that I consistently face. Because of many factors, such as the pressures of immigration and colonial mentality, many Filipino Americans no longer know what it means to be home, to have a culture, or to be part of something bigger and greater than oneself. Patricia Halagao states that colonial mentality “reinforces the belief that [Filipino Americans] are psychologically and intellectually subordinate and inferior people.”  Thus, it has resulted in Filipino youth who no longer care about their history and dismiss their ethnic heritage as “damaged.” Suddenly many migrants, especially second generation immigrants, have forgotten what it means to be Filipino – what it means to have a heritage and culture rooted in the lands of the Philippines.
But God is giving us a new opportunity to reclaim what we have either lost or forgotten. These problems can be fixed if we take the necessary step of educating ourselves and learning how to empathize with the matters of home. Today, we are facing a new election season that will determine the future of our country, the preservation of our natural ecosystem, and the liberation of many families whose livelihoods have been damaged by Chinese occupation.
Truly, we cannot underestimate the vote of Filipinos abroad. Including permanent migrants, there are approximately 10.2 million Filipinos overseas, and many of them have the eligibility to vote. According to a recent survey, as of May 3, 2021, only 1.4 million overseas Filipinos have registered to vote for the 2022 Presidential Election, but there are at least 1.6 million others who have not.
So, if you are eligible, go and register at your nearest Consulate General. But if you cannot vote, continue to educate yourself and lift your fellow Filipino sisters and brothers in prayer. Because if our administration will not take action, then the future is in our hands. May we not waste the next election season by recognizing that we are still Filipino, no matter how far we are from home. For God and country, may we go out and vote!
Registration ends for overseas Filipinos on September 30, 2021.
 Patricia Halagao, “Holding Up the Mirror: The Complexity of Seeing Your Ethnic Self in History,” Theory and Research in Social Education 32, no. 4 (September 2004): 463.