The Hidden Power of Overseas Filipinos

That our roots are firmly planted in a nation which has had only 70 of its last 500 years free of colonial subjugation and foreign rule, should be enough of an incentive.  But sadly it is not.  The global Filipino does not exercise that most fundamental right of freedom, the right to vote.

10 million Filipinos live outside of the Philippines.  Much of this overseas population is represented by a well-educated, highly talented group of individuals.  There are 2.3 million registered overseas foreign workers alone, and millions more are permanent residents of other countries.  Just the kind of voter base that has the potential to choose our leaders by making well-informed decisions and not haphazard or impulsive ones.

In the US, where there are 3.4 million Filipinos, a 2010 US Census report showed that as a group, Filipinos enjoy an average household income around 50% greater than the national average, handily outstripping the majority of other ethnic groups. According to a 2004 US Census report, Filipino Americans represent one of the most educated populations in the United States with 47.9% of all Filipino Americans over the age of 25 having a Bachelor’s degree compared to 27% for the national average.

Yet in the 2010 Philippine national elections, only 41,800 people in the US were registered for overseas voting and only 12,910 actually voted.

The story is the same for participation in US elections.  Of the 1.1 million Filipinos in California, where the greatest concentration of Filipinos in America can be found, and where we are the largest Asian American population in the state, less than 17% of the voting-age Filipino population is estimated to be active, a pattern repeated across the nation.  Consequently, as a percentage of the US population, Filipinos are grossly under-represented politically. There is a scarcity of Filipinos in public office, and the relative weight of our community’s influence on policy makers is greatly diminished by the weakness of our collective voting power.

Yes, overseas Filipinos are 10 million strong.  But in the 2010 Philippine national elections, only 590,000 of this group registered to vote, and of these, only 153,000 cast a ballot. In the 2013 elections, only 119,000 voted.

In the Philippine presidential elections of 2010, 2004, and 1992, roughly a million votes would have changed the outcome of either the Presidential or Vice Presidential races.  In the US, much smaller numbers would have swung many a local, state, or national election.

It is something to consider when a highly-educated population of millions of overseas Filipinos remains non-engaged in the process.  An untapped resource that might have the ability to steer the course of our adopted country’s and our homeland’s futures, but nevertheless remains mute and dormant.

Time to change.  Let us stand up and be counted.  It is our right, sought throughout hundreds of years of painful history.  A right of infinite value for which our revolutionary and patriotic forefathers paid through blood, amidst their cries of “Kalayaan! Freedom and liberty!

Conrado ‘Radi’ Calalang is Chairman of KalayaanSF, a San Francisco based community organization whose mission is to help empower the Filipino-American community.  KalayaanSF’s main event, the annual KalayaanSF Festival & Concert will be held at Union Square on Saturday, June 27, 2015 from 12PM to 8PM and is free to the public. The KalayaanSF Festival will be featuring both California Voter’s Registration and Philippine Overseas Voter’s Registration booths.  For more information, please visit