(ABS-CBN, The Philippine Star, By Jose Katigbak) - Filipino-Americans account for more than half of the foreign exchange that the Philippines receives annually from its overseas workers but lack the political clout to match their economic muscle.
From a handful of Filipinos who first arrived to work in the sugarcane fields of Hawaii 100 years ago, the community has grown to some 2.5 million, most of them naturalized US citizens or permanent residents. In addition there are about 200,000 illegal Filipino workers.
Their overall remittances to the Philippines last year totaled about $6.6 billion.
However, only 16,339 have registered to vote in the May 14 elections, said consul general Domingo Nolasco of the embassy in Washington.
The majority of these absentee voters are green-card holders, as permanent residents are known, while some are illegal workers and the rest, dual citizens.
The dual citizenship law of 2003 allows Filipinos who have acquired foreign citizenship to re-acquire their original citizenship enabling them to vote.
But the vast majority of Filipino-Americans have not availed themselves of this option in the mistaken notion that it will jeopardize their US citizenship, Nolasco said.
Whether it's voting in Philippine elections or US elections, the Filipino voter leaves much to be desired.
According to the National Federation of Filipino-American Associations (NaFFAA), there are an estimated 1.8 million Filipino-Americans of voting age in the US.
However only 594,000 voted in the 2004 US presidential elections.
NaFFAA aims to mobilize Filipinos who are US citizens to register and vote in the November 2008 elections and to encourage those who are not yet citizens to go through the naturalization process.
"To influence policymakers, we need to get into positions of power by using our votes to elect officials who represent our interests, or getting elected ourselves," said NaFFAA head Alma Kern said.
"Political empowerment is about being able to better the lives of people by influencing legislation through our voices and collective strength," Kern said.